Massoud, The Afghan

"Afghanistan. A country far away, at war, which no one gives a damn about." French documentary filmmaker Christophe de Ponfilly shot this film in 1997, and his voice-over has since taken on a bitter irony: After September 11, 2001, Afghanistan indeed became a country people cared about very much, however briefly. Ponfilly, however, has long been concerned...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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"Afghanistan. A country far away, at war, which no one gives a damn about." French documentary filmmaker Christophe de Ponfilly shot this film in 1997, and his voice-over has since taken on a bitter irony: After September 11, 2001, Afghanistan indeed became a country people cared about very much, however briefly. Ponfilly, however, has long been concerned with the fate this war ravaged country and its people, particularly Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary Tajik mujaheddin whose exploits battling first the Soviets, then the Taliban, earned him the moniker "The Lion of Panjshir." Ponfilly began filming Massoud in 1981; his first documentary, A VALLEY AGAINST AN EMPIRE (1983), is a first-hand account of Massoud's efforts to protect his beloved Valley of Panjshir from the Soviet onslaught. Returning to northeastern Afghanistan in July, 1997, Ponfilly once again finds the valley under siege — this time by the Taliban, to whom Massoud and his forces have already lost control of Kabul — and Massoud in his mountain stronghold, planning a bold uprising designed to break the enemy blockade and push the Taliban from the one part of the country they do not yet control. Ponfilly combines this newly shot footage with clips from his earlier works — to him, it's all one long film — to construct a fascinating portrait of the kind of warrior rarely found outside heroic epics: bold, handsome, courageous — poetic, even. Ponfilly indulges in a bit of navel gazing concerning his own personal relationship to Afghanistan and the efficacy of his art, but he obviously adores the charismatic Massoud, whom he quite understandably compares to Che Guevara, and holds him forth as Afghanistan's greatest hope. Sadly, subsequent events have proven him wrong. On September 9, 2001, Massoud was murdered by two suicide bombers posing as Belgian journalists; two days later, terrorists hijacked four jumbo jets and destroyed the World Trade Center, triggering the U.S. bombing campaign that soon ended the Taliban's reign. (It's been long speculated that the two events are not entirely unrelated, that Osama bin Laden had Massoud killed in order to deprive the Northern Alliance of its one viable leader before inviting U.S. retaliation.) History has since overtaken Ponfilly's film, which now more than ever seems like but one chapter in a much larger story — the ongoing tragedy of Afghanistan — and a tragic tribute to all that might have been.

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  • Released: 1998
  • Rating: R
  • Review: "Afghanistan. A country far away, at war, which no one gives a damn about." French documentary filmmaker Christophe de Ponfilly shot this film in 1997, and his voice-over has since taken on a bitter irony: After September 11, 2001, Afghanistan indeed becam… (more)

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