My Childhood, My Country: 20 Years in Afghanistan review – desperately sad study of a boy’s life

Phil Grabsky and Shoaib Sharifi have followed Mir for two decades in what is almost a brutal companion piece to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

This documentary following one boy’s life in Afghanistan feels like a brutal, desperately sad companion piece to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Its co-directors, the British documentary-maker Phil Grabsky and Shoaib Sharifi, first started filming Mir Hussein aged seven in 2002, and they haven’t stopped. They have already made two previous films – The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan (2004) and The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan (2011) – and this third gives us the complete picture: Mir pulled along by time’s current from boyhood to the present day, married with three kids in Kabul. To be honest, it’s the opposite of life-affirming.

The story begins in 2002, a year after 9/11. US troops have landed in Afghanistan. Seven-year-old Mir is living with his family in a cave in Bamiyan, having fled their village. They are grindingly poor, but little Mir giggles as he shows the film-makers his “bedroom” in the cave. He grins as a fighter jet roars overhead. “We thought that the Americans would rebuild our country,” Mir remembers on the voiceover, without a trace of bitterness.

He is a little older in 2004, back in his home town, attending school. Mir says he wants to be the president or a headteacher when he grows up. But then his father gets sick, so he has to work: first in the fields and then in a death-trap coalmine. Mir is resourceful, resilient and always hopefully optimistic about the future of his country, often in the face of the reality before his eyes.

It’s an intimate, painful documentary. “I have never experienced a happy life, because of war and the Taliban,” Mir says in 2020, living with wife and children in Kabul, training as a news cameraman. He is made redundant from that job during lockdown. Mir has lived most of his life through the failed Nato mission in Afghanistan. This film ends before the dire crisis that has engulfed the country following the withdrawal of troops and the Taliban re-taking control. What will a film about Mir in five years find? It’s a grim thought.

• My Childhood, My Country: 20 Years in Afghanistan is released on 20 September in cinemas.


Cath Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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