The Prince Of Nothingwood Review

the prince of nothingwood movie
French film-maker Sonia Kronlund usually reports on “horrendous stories” when she visits Afghanistan, she says. But here she finds a relatively lighter subject in the form of writer/director/producer/actor Salim Shaheen who, against all odds, has made 110 movies in the country during the past three decades, with no money and no resources. Hence “Nothingwood”…

by Dan Jolin |
Published on
Release Date:

15 Dec 2017

Original Title:

The Prince Of Nothingwood

“Just stand here and hit record!... Look nasty!... Act better than that!” Welcome to directing school, as taught by the irrepressible Afghan film-maker Saleem Shaheen. Bullish, bombastic and undeniably charismatic, Shaheen is a one-man film industry. He looks like a latter-day Brando (if he dressed like Tony Manero), and has all the can-do-whatever-the-circumstances enthusiasm of Ed Wood. If he needs to shoot an action scene, he’ll rope in some real soldiers as extras, then politely demand to use their AK-47 assault rifles. (He’ll only use real bullets “when filming from afar,” he reassures us.) If he requires stage blood, he’ll decapitate a chicken and water down its gore — but not before announcing it as “a martyr for Afghan cinema”. And if a rocket attack injures him and horrifically kills ten of his cast and crew — as happened during a shoot in Kabul during the Afghan Civil War — he’ll be back on set, still swathed in bandages, days later, out of love for his art.

A fascinating portrait of everyday life in one of the world's most dangerous countries.

While Shaheen is in some ways a comical figure (a view only encouraged by his high-volume jollity), French documentarian Sonia Kronlund never lets him become a joke. His output may be no-budget and pitched somewhere between Bollywood and Chuck Norris, but to many in his perpetually war-torn homeland he is a true hero, offering escapism to people living in what he calls “a savage world”. Kronlund never loses sight of his surroundings and keeps the context in sharp focus. As well as studying the man himself, she invites his collaborators into the frame (such as the daringly camp actor Qurban Ali, who takes most of the female roles) and through them composes a fascinating portrait of everyday life in one of the world’s most dangerous countries.

Neither does she let Shaheen off the hook. She questions and highlights his refusal to introduce her to his two wives and six daughters (while filling a room with his eight sons), and shows how he can fly into rages and sulks, even while shamelessly requisitioning her own crew to film scenes for his autobiographical epic. You may like him for his (mostly) cheery tenacity, or you might find him a patriarchal bully. Either way, he proves a fascinating subject, well worth 85 minutes of your attention.

By turns amusing and harrowing, and with a compelling figure at its heart, The Prince Of Nothingwood proves how the show really can go on, no matter how terrible the circumstances.
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