Massoud, the Afghan (2002)

Genres - History  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Politics & Government  |   Run Time - 60 min.  |   Countries - Canada   |  
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Massoud, the legendary freedom fighter profiled in this documentary by Christophe de Ponfilly, had, at the time of its completion in 1998, been leading a loyal band of fighters in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan for nearly two decades, fighting first against the Soviet invasion and then against the Taliban. Noble and charismatic, he's exactly the type of figure many French intellectuals find irresistible. De Ponfilly, who filmed Massoud off and on for some 18 years, is obviously smitten, comparing him early on with Bob Dylan and Che Guevara. He is a fascinating figure. The one problem with the film is that Massoud remains an enigma at its end. Inexplicably, despite his repeated access to Massoud, de Ponfilly is never permitted an interview, only to film Massoud's day-to-day activities as he prepares for yet another series of battles for his country. As a result, the film, at times, becomes more about its maker than its subject. It takes a deft hand to pull that kind of thing off (Abbas Kiarostami does it to remarkable effect in his documentary about AIDS in Uganda, ABC Africa), and de Ponfilly doesn't have it. In the end, we know more about his travels to and from Afghanistan than what it might be like to fight a guerilla war for 20 years. It doesn't help that he has a weakness for hokey effects. At one point Massoud's face is superimposed, godlike, on the landscape. At other times de Ponfilly pointlessly adds the clacking of a film projector under his old film footage. The oddest moment in the film comes when a Russian TV crew comes to interview Massoud (de Ponfilly never makes clear why Massoud allowed them an interview and not him). In this sequence we get a glimpse of Massoud's charm as well as his conviction, and it becomes all the more haunting knowing that he was assassinated shortly before September 11, 2001, by two men posing as a camera crew. This is, of course, left out of the film, which originally came out in France in 1998. Flaws and all, it may be the most complete document we have of this intriguing figure.