The Prince of Nothingwood
- Hannah McGill
- 11 December 2017
Affable documentary from Sonia Kronlund following Afghanistan's most prolific filmmaker
'Nothingwood' describes the status, according to this film's central figure, of the Afghan film industry. And he should know, for Salim Shaheen is its most prolific moviemaker; a chubby, magnanimous, indefatigably self-confident creator of self-starring mini-epics that appear to combine Bollywood gaiety with Steven Seagal-style macho action.
Shaheen has continued to produce these works, which now number over a hundred, through the most violent days of Afghanistan's war-torn recent history, constructing for himself along the way a persona that is part temperamental artist and part benevolent superhero, all with an undertow of self-deprecating humour.
It's amusing, and filmmaker Sonia Kronlund evidently finds it so, permitting her subject to self-mythologise without restraint, and constructing an onscreen double-act with him, whereby he plunges himself relentlessly into risk whilst she hangs back asking nervously about the possibility of landmines. Kronlund even films Shaheen intervening to help after a real car accident, the sort of scenario he evidently wishes her to believe is commonplace in his life.
The ease that they establish with one another encourages other figures to come out of their shells, most memorably the gloriously flamboyant Qurban Ali. Shaheen's go-to actor for female roles, Ali revels in the camera's attention and in the relative safety it confers on him to be himself. Filmed by Shaheen, he goes all-out as a grief-stricken matriarch; filmed by Kronlund, he turns a humble street market into his own catwalk, preening under uncomprehending glares. 'Just providing some entertainment,' he tells the onlookers.
However, the pattern of Shaheen and friends making lovable spectacles of themselves whilst Kronlund hangs back laughing gets a touch repetitive; the film is a fun and sporadically revealing fly-on-the-wall piece about a movie eccentric, but it could have done with some more solid background, both about its subject and the film world in which he operates.
Selected release from Fri 15 Dec.