Yosef Baraki’s debut effort Mina Walking eschews the gloss of popular cinematic production, presenting instead a drab, realistic portrait of post-war life in Afghanistan. The narrative focuses on the events surrounding seven days in the life of 12-year-old Mina, a fiercely driven child who sells trinkets in a town marketplace to provide bread for her family.
The film personalises the widespread poverty in Afghanistan by giving a face to its suffererers. Mina, whose senile grandfather and heroin-addicted father contribute nothing to the sustainment of the family, must pedal fabrics and other insignificant baubles in touristy areas in order to make ends meet.
The action of the film takes place during the inaugural Afghani elections, a period in between infrastructural devastation and reconstruction. Spirits are low and money is hard to come by for most families, causing them to take drastic measures in order to survive. Chronic impoverishment causes people to look on death, hardship and misfortune as basic tenets of existence, leaving no room for excessive self-pity. In a particularly poignant scene, Mina returns home to discover that her grandfather has finally succumbed to the fatal effects of his disease. Since her father has abandoned her to get high with friends, she must walk from door to door, beseeching neighbours and clergymen to help her bury the dead body. Hardly anyone reacts sympathetically after hearing her grim news, almost as if her grandfather’s death were simply a footnote on a page already overridden with loss.
In a bid to raise awareness of the plight of the impoverished in Afghanistan, Baraki opts for a pared-down, handheld camera style that lends itself particularly well to the gritty, personal attitude of the film. During preproduction the director vetted a group of child street vendors, befriending them and eventually recruiting them to participate in the film he would go on to shoot over a period of 19 days.
Baraki supplements the authenticity of the mostly untrained actors’ performances, evidenced by the real struggle etched in their faces by an early-onset world weariness, with simple, realistic dialogue that paints a mosaic rather than drawing a direct narrative line. The audience becomes immersed in the dull upward trudge of a war-torn people, who would do anything to find stability in their lives.
As a first film, Mina Walking succeeds, if not with gripping dialogue or expert camerawork then with its ambitious scope, and the capacity to rivet its audience with the brutal truth of its subject matter.
Mina Walking does not yet have a UK release date.
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Watch the trailer for Mina Walking here: