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Vague film about Afghanistan trauma

Alex van Veen

9 June 2007 - “Show me dead, show me the death man!” In a gloomy way, the seriously troubled man wanders through the Jodenbreestraat in the city centre of Amsterdam in the middle of the night. Cyclists skirt around him to avoid having to face misery. Away, away, away from here!

No one takes notice of the man. And who could blame them, for are we not daily confronted by people who have lost their way in both senses of the word? We are becoming immune to human suffering.

The fearful scene was observed by Cyrus Frisch, who shot it from his balcony using a cell phone. His latest film, with the intriguing but somewhat misleading title Waarom heeft niemand mij verteld dat het zo erg zou worden in Afghanistan? (Why did nobody tell me Afghanistan would become that bad?), contains a series of images of youth hanging around and making a nuisance of themselves, pushy drug dealers, homeless people, drunks and cautioning policemen, shot from the front and back sides of his apartment at the Zuiderkerkhof.

The scenes at his doorstep are mixed with footage of subjects apparently chosen at random, such as a visit to the supermarket, where an aggressively swearing young man is detained by staff members. We also see images of a helicopter circling above the city centre, of shots fired in a faraway war, of police cars and an ambulance (apparently) responding to an accident on an Amsterdam street, of Palestinian (?) youth throwing stones, and of intense smoke hanging above the Central Station, the final shot of the movie.

All these images are equally vague, due to the lousy resolution of the cell phone. Seen on a movie screen, it is really dramatic. The abominable sound quality does not help either: because of the wind, the viewer constantly has the impression that the film maker is taking a shower. Repeatedly we see and here people on the streets swearing and shouting; police car sirens are a recurrent theme. After seventy minutes, it fortunately ends at the Rialto movie house. I wanted to hear NRC Handelsblad journalist interview the film maker afterwards, otherwise I would have called it a day after ten minutes.

This was a mistake, for what Frisch had to say was almost as vague as the film itself. For example, he told us that he had chosen the title because he “sort of liked” it. The synopsis states that the film should be seen through the eyes of a traumatised Afghanistan veteran. “This makes the film easier to grasp, I think”, Frisch told the audience, which seemed to consist mainly of his former neighbours. Former, for the film maker has left the Nieuwmarkt.

“His trauma makes it plausible that the main character experiences the incidents on his street as very threatening”, Frisch continued his ramshackle argument. Despite concluding that the atmosphere in the city has “hardened considerably”, Frisch finds that the nuisance created by ethnic youth at the Zuiderkerkhof is non-existent. “They demand respect from the white residents, who in turn expect these young people to earn their respect first. This results in frictions, which is unnecessary”.

Frisch said he made a conscious decision to use his cell phone because of its low resolution, which gives an “added tension” to the images. With a regular camera, he would not have succeeded. Although he considers his latest film a “small personal contribution to tolerance”, the average viewer will see it as an attempt to make a statement, painfully showing the deterioration of our materialistic welfare state.

Journalist Van den Boogaard was very enthusiastic about the film. “In a few years, we may well reach the conclusion that the Dutch military effort in Afghanistan has made an impact on our national cultural pattern - on how the Dutch feel about the use of violence, the acceptability of victims, the place of the Netherlands in the world, in short, on this country. Frisch deserves credit for being the first to raise these issues”. But the Afghanistan war is exactly what the film is not about...

The generally laudatory reviews of Waarom heeft niemand mij verteld dat het zo erg zou worden in Afghanistan? are based mainly on the film maker’s artistic qualities. This is incomprehensible, for compared to the experimental art movie of the 1960s this is the work of an amateur. Apparently, film critics have become so fed up with high tech gadgets in the form of computer simulations and expensive monster productions, that making a vague film using a cell phone sitting comfortably in one’s chair is considered innovative and uplifting. I cannot say that I understand it.


This article appeared originally at Ravage Digitaal


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