Set in Afghanistan, around the rubble of the giant Buddha statue that was destroyed by the Taliban, the second film by 19-year-old Hana Makhmalbaf (newest member of Iran’s famed filmmaking dynasty) is equal parts charming and disturbing. It starts out in cute mode, following the misadventures of an enterprising six-year-old (Nikbakht Noruz) as she goes about the tricky business of purchasing a school notebook. But events darken after she’s apprehended en route to a classroom by a boy-gang intent on holding her hostage as part of their brutish war games. Fantasy and reality begin to merge – a paper aeroplane crashes out of the sky in real flames – and it’s a minefield deciding whether or not the kids are just playing. Startling and original, Makhmalbaf’s film draws some frightening conclusions about the effect of war on young minds.
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