Land Mines - A Love Story is the latest film from Dennis O'Rourke (Half Life, "Cannibal Tours", The Good Woman of Bangkok, Cunnamulla). With compelling naturalness, the film tells the story of Habiba and Shah who, because of the wars fought in their country, Afghanistan, over the past 25 years, have experienced immense suffering, but who have survived to show how it is possible to be brave and moral in this world of sanctioned violence and official lies.
In 1979, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; they were resisted by Mujaheddin soldiers, armed and financed by the United States. Ten years later Russia was defeated and withdrew from a devastated country. Warfare between rival Afghan factions continued until the Taliban controlled most of the country. Afghanistan soon became a base for Al-Qaida.
Habiba was herding the family cow near her village when she stepped on a Russian-made land mine. At the age of eleven, she was wounded in the most violent way imaginable. This was in 1992, and in another part of the Shomali valley, Shah, a former Mujaheddin soldier, was recovering from his war wounds. Shah thought that, because of his disability, he would never have the chance to marry and raise a family.
Soon, war raged again in the Shomali valley. The Taliban attacked and destroyed Habiba's house and farm. Most of her family fled to the refuge camps in Pakistan but because of her injuries Habiba had to remain in Kabul which soon came under Taliban control. Living close by in the poorest part of the city, Shah noticed a pretty Tajik girl who had only one leg. Amidst the chaos and violence, and despite all the obstacles of tradition and religion, he began to court her.
Flash forward to early 2002. The Taliban have been routed and Afghanistan occupied by the United States and its allies. Kabul and all parts of the country have come under intense bombardment with thousands more innocents killed and wounded. American-made cluster bombs - which have the same killing effect as land mines - litter the country. Habiba is begging on the pavement in the main bazaar. She is just nineteen. Her husband Shah is her only support in the world; he works in the streets as a cobbler. On a good day he can bring home the equivalent of two dollars, which is not enough to feed their family of three children.
Habiba and Shah are illiterate, yet they speak with great eloquence and conviction about how war and conflict have affected their lives. They discuss international events and moral issues from a perspective that is so far removed from our own. Their insights into the state of the world, and their example of how to live, are enough to shame our leaders in the West, and us too.
Part observational film, and part essay - driven by a polemic that is both angry and subtle - Land Mines - A Love Story is an anti-war film set in the country whose name has become synonymous with conflict. It is also a story of romance, a celebration of life, hope and love in the ruined city of Kabul.