Dennis O'Rourke

film 4 of 4

Land Mines, a Love Story

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 28, 2015

Boy, I remember when this seemed, when this was such breaking news! It’s just past ten years gone at the time of this writing, so it’s not like the film is now irrelevant, or a mere curio. But we need to keep in mind the ever-urgent fact that today’s report, however vivid, can never be seen as the last word on anything. A situation can change daily. Who can anticipate or even calculate the difference a decade makes?

That said, you can’t understand the text of today’s report without having some context to put it into perspective. There are cultural patterns, abiding cultural mores and traditions. Plus, people are people. The timely and timeless, as Hugh Nibley once observed. So time has indeed passed, and things have changed. But not everything. For its sensitivity to all this, Land Mines, a Love Story continues to have great interest and pertinence. It is further distinguished by its attentive and sympathetic nature, and method. As an Australian, and an Australian of European descent, Dennis O’Rourke is something of an outsider here in Afghanistan. But he’s not a conqueror/occupier, nor even a score-settler. He comes at all this from another angle, as it were. A native of a developed nation, and yet at the same time one with an experience of having been colonized. Let’s hear it again, for Australians and Canadians!

Here is an anthropological impulse, operating in opposition to film’s often or usual profit motive. Like Robert Flaherty so long before him, O’Rourke’s outsider’s objective is simply to become acquainted with the insider, or the native inhabitant/informant. He does so by the means that have so distinguished the documentary idiom from its very inception. He listens! By putting his subjects so manifestly at the centre of his frame, and by devoting so much time to what they have to say, and what they are experiencing, he accomplishes something very important. In fact, if you wish, it is the documentary idiom’s great raison d’être. Power, possession and privilege almost always have the floor, as it were. But if we are all created equal, and endowed with certain inalienable rights, then this constant state of things is an offense to the dignity of men and women. Non-fiction film wearies itself in redressing this imbalance. It constantly places the peripheral back in the middle of things. The decent powerful person—Horton, hearing the Who—will give way, and learn something. Then he’ll change something, if only a little bit. But what if we repeat that action? By small means are great things brought to pass …

By the way, this inside/outside configuration has a special interest for the North Americans that are most likely to be reading this post. For US residents a film from Afghanistan—and from this exact period of Afghanistan’s history—will quite understandably be of particular interest. That interest will likely, inevitably relate to Sept. 11, and to the conversations and conflicts that followed. Affronted, offended, frightened: it would be tempting for that US resident to seek a reassuring but maybe not exactly accurate, or fair opinion equilibrium. This is what happened, this is what it means, this is what I think about it all. And, always related, this is what we should do about it!

All that brings us back to where we started. Breaking news always finds us where we find it. It’s a constant challenge, a constant scramble to do right by it. But as we make the attempt it’s well to remember some pretty basic things, however obvious they may be. Not everyone thinks and acts like we do. And there are reasons for that. On the other hand, these sweet people! And the travail that they’ve experienced! Might they even cause you to rethink your attitude to your own nation’s welfare rolls, let alone you’re nation’s responsibilities, internationally? Whether yes or no, difference will almost always butt up against our vast common ground. This is just a little film. But so much substance!