Cabal In Kabul

Cabal In Kabul


Reviewed by: James Benefield

Belgian filmmaker Dan Alexe’s documentary concerning the somewhat dwindling Jewish population of Afghanistan is possibly more of use to an anthropologist than anybody with any interest in the country or its religious spread.

It focuses primarily on two ageing Jewish men who find themselves as next door neighbours. Alexe, using just a single handheld camera, follows them doing menial daily tasks (such as buying bread), tracks their relationship (including their playful arguments, accusing each other of being members of the ‘goyim’) and films them recounting anecdotes about how they are treated in this highly Muslim country. Some of these anecdotes seem, curiously, played down. Accounts of beating are, somewhat disturbingly, laughed off by the film’s two main participants.

The documentary is fundamentally flawed for two reasons. Firstly, we get little context of who these guys really are, why they are there and what they do. Secondly, we do not get much of an idea of the history of the Jewish population in the country. It’s a piece that feels, consequently, rather slight and rather lazy. Hence the anthropological interest; it is interesting to catch a glimpse of the day-to-day proceedings of people living in such a place.

My other issue with the film concerns the relationship between the filmmaker and his subjects. They do seem to play up to the camera, and Alexe chooses not to make much comment about this. It’s hard to tell whether the friends’ playful bickering is either toned down or accentuated for our sake. There is also a rather strange, protracted and gratuitous scene in which the older man, Isaac, is shown repeatedly giving money to beggars on the street. I couldn’t tell whether this is the filmmaker’s attempt to break some kind of offensive stereotype, or a chance for us to warm to his character more. In either case it seems a deeply odd artistic choice; Isaac exudes warmth from every pore, and he is clearly nothing like any offensive, dated stereotypes in the first place.

Although Cabal In Kabul is not without interest, it’s ultimately somewhat of a confused piece. It fails to set its intentions and boundaries at the start, and rambles to an ending which, under most other circumstances, would be fairly poignant. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth too; ultimately, it feels pretty disingenuous.

Reviewed on: 29 Apr 2009
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Cabal In Kabul packshot
A documentary about life in Afghanistan.

Director: Dan Alexe

Starring: Isaac Lévy, Zabulon Simantov

Year: 2006

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Belgium


Afghan 2009

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