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Saturday , December 5 2020

A stirring tale of hope in ‘Angels’

Greengrass recreates Norway terror attack

Life strives to grow, and flourish, amid catastrophic ruins in “Angels Are Made of Light”, James Longley’s stirring and gorgeous documentary about young students and teachers trying to maintain hope in Kabul. As with his prior “Iraq in Fragments,” the director offers a multitude of despairing perspectives on this war-torn milieu, where poverty and war are constant impediments to happiness and progress. Driven by powerful confessional narration from various sources, the film should strike a resonant chord following its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival.

While criticism of America’s military presence in Afghanistan is intermittently heard in conversation and on radio here, Longley’s approach is largely apolitical, insofar as his main focus is the day-to-day experience — and emotional and psychological state – of his pre-teen voices, all of whom attend the Daqiqi Balkhi School. Cheery Sohrab’s love of books and ambition to be at the top of his class are echoed by his younger brother, Yaldash, who wants to learn English and work with computers rather than toiling away at the tin shop job forced upon him by his father. Their oldest brother, Rostam, on the other hand, is undecided about continuing his studies, and increasingly drawn to follow in his dad’s footsteps as a mechanic.

These kids – as well as classmate Nabiullah, who helps out at his father’s food stand – express themselves in voiceover narration tied to the nonfiction action set in and around their bustling, ramshackle school, where an adolescent din is so overwhelming that everyone seems thrilled to eventually move into a modern new building (donated by Americans) where they can hear themselves think.

Longley mostly ignores Kabul’s schoolgirls – presumably because he wasn’t granted access to them – but he captures plenty of Quran lessons; religion is the prime area of study for developing minds in the nation. Despite such piety, however, earthly anguish runs rampant. A lack of money, resources and opportunities routinely threatens to derail the modest dreams of peace, stability and intellectual stimulation to which these students cling. In their commentary, Sohrab and Yaldash articulate a staunch desire to better themselves through education, even as the former laments both the language barriers that isolate Afghanistan’s many tribes, and the fact that he knows nothing about anything that predates his own birth.

That lack of historical context is filled in by teacher Nik and cleaning woman Rogul, whose memories of Afghanistan’s tumultuous 20th-century past are augmented by grainy archival newsreel footage; together, these provide a framework for the nation’s contemporary circumstances. Yet, were it not for a mention of an election to replace President Hamid Karzai, the 2011-14 timeframe of “Angels Are Made of Light” wouldn’t be discernible.


Nonetheless, a minor lack of clarity – also created by a sometimes confusing mix of speakers – is in keeping with Longley’s intimate on-the-ground depiction of this conflict-ravaged place, where the streets are slick with mud or covered in snow, populated by men wheeling animal heads in wheelbarrows, and crowded by pro-mujahideen demonstrators.

Through its spoken words, its sorrowful and understated score (by John Erik Kaada) and its quietly devastating snapshots of people just trying to get by, all amid a pervasive sense of violence, “Angels Are Made of Light” serves as a lament for a prosperous past that can’t be reclaimed, a volatile present that affords few prospects for joy or success, and a future that’s terrifyingly uncertain. No matter its title, there are no heaven-sent saviors to be found here – only despondent children struggling, with the aid of a few noble adults, to take flight.


LOS ANGELES: Netflix has released the trailer for “22 July”, depicting the true story behind the deadliest attack in Norway history since WWII. The drama comes from Academy Award-nominated director Paul Greengrass, known for his expertise in creating hyper-realistic adaptations of modern historical tragedies, as he did with “Captain Phillips”, “United 93” and “Bloody Sunday”.

Anders Danielsen Lie stars as Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed a total of 77 people on July 22, 2011, as part of a lone-wolf terror attack against the government, civilian population, and a camp for teens. The attacks began with a car bomb in the government quarter of Oslo that killed eight, and continued later that same day when Breivik carried out a mass shooting at the Norwegian Labor Party’s Youth League summer leadership camp on the island of Utoya.

Based on the book “One of Us: The Story of an Attack on Norway – And Its Aftermath” by Asne Seierstad, the story follows Viljar, played by Jonas Strand Gravli, and other survivors in a dramatic reenactment of the aftermath of the attacks. It focuses on the experiences of the victims, as well as Norway’s path to healing after the attack.

 VENICE, Italy: The maker of “The Lives of Others” returns to divided 20th century Germany in “Never Look Away”, a film that premiered in Venice on Tuesday and is already being talked about as his second potential Oscar winner.

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose last film “The Tourist”, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, was panned by the critics, is back with “Never Look Away”, about a struggling artist in Nazi, and then Communist, eastern Germany. The three-hour epic begins in 1930s Dresden where a young boy’s innate artistic talent is spotted by his sensitive aunt, whose own free-spiritedness proves too much for the Nazis.

The boy, Kurt, survives the oppression and the bombing of World War Two, but as a grown-up artist in East Germany is forced to conform to Socialist Realism – painting murals of revolutionary peasants singing the praises of the Motherland.

After fleeing to the West he is equally unimpressed by the fatuous conceptualist art then in vogue, and struggles to find his own vision. (RTRS)

By Nick Schager

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