Son Of A Lion

Son Of A Lion


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Set in the Western Frontier Province of Pakistan, Son Of A Lion is a relatively simple coming of age story complicated by the region's history and the film's origins.

Niaz is 11, on the verge of manhood and with one last chance to be enrolled for school. His father distrusts the mullahs and their madrassas, and as such is against his son going away to school. He also needs him for his workshop, making (and repairing) copies of pistols, rifles, and the ubiquitous AK-47. His uncle wants an education for the boy, having enjoyed the opportunities provided himself, and his cousin Anousha frequently sends him letters extolling the excitements of Peshawar.

Copy picture

The cast are amateurs from the region, and director Benjamin Gilmour credits them for much of the script. Sher Alam Miskeen Astad who plays the father is genuinely a former mujahideen, a veteran of the Soviet invasion. The boy's grandmother is, in fact, the actor's grandmother. These aren't actors in any genuine sense, which lends a documentary weight to the film. Indeed, Gilmour's aim has been to tell a story about these people, the Pashtun exiles and Afghan immigrants of Northern Pakistan, in order that they be seen as people.

This film was motivated by Gilmour's love of the region, having visited before September 2001. His fear, revealed in a number of interviews, is that these people be seen solely as terrorists. The tribal regions are a harsh place, guns are commonplace. There are rows of shops and workshops where guns are made and sold, test firings in the street and celebratory fusillades at night.

As a picture of a place Son Of A Lion is miles ahead of The Kite Runner. Being filmed entirely on location gives it tremendous credit, even though the process of filming without official support in the region must have been fraught. Gilmour appears to have a genuine affection for these people, and this is clear in the film.

It's a beautiful part of the world, marred by what to Western eyes appears shocking poverty and the omnipresence of assault weaponry. This is a place only vaguely touched upon by the outside world. Al Qaeda, Rambo 3 and Bollywood have all had some small influence, but there is low educational attainment, subsistence level existence.

While well made, given the circumstances, and well produced, given the inexperience of those involved, Son of A Lion's greatest weakness is its origins. Some elements seem a little amateurish, and in comparison with the average film it makes Dogme pictures look like glossy comic book adaptations. If treated less as a feature film than a 'devised drama', Son Of A Lion becomes a natural companion piece to Battle For Haditha and with that small shift of perspective its faults become forgivable.

As with many debut films this is clearly a labour of love, and Gilmour, while inexperienced, has a sure eye. The equipment for the film may have been simple, but this is still a moving, human story. The setting may be beyond foreign, entering alien territory, but these are clearly people, trying to cope with their lives. Gilmour's aim to humanise a population all to easily demonised in The War On Terror is clearly a success.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2008
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Father and son's ideologies clash in their Pashun tribe.

Director: Benjamin Gilmour

Writer: Benjamin Gilmour

Starring: Niaz Khan Shinwari, Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad

Year: 2007

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Australia, Pakistan


EIFF 2008

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