A most unusual dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, “Jirga” is a tale of seeking redemption. It also involves the possibility of forgiveness, but that is by no means on the table in the journey taken by Sam Smith as an Australian veteran of the lengthy war in Afghanistan. The story is a labor of love by writer--director Benjamin Gilmour, who originally planned to shoot in Pakistan as per financial possibilities, but, thwarted by the secret service there, he switched to filming in the more appropriate location of Afghanistan despite dangers and need for other financing.
Smith plays Mike Wheeler, who is haunted by guilt feelings for having bungled into shooting a non-combatant Afghan husband and father. Wracked by this aspect of PTSD, he seeks solace by making a long journey back to Afghanistan and eventually to the village where what he considers a war crime occurred. The trip is portrayed colorfully, including being captured by Taliban and how he manages to continue on his journey.
Wheeler’s mission: to place himself in the hands of the community so it can seek justice for the killing weighed under the local Jirga process. On arrival he says he is willing to accept whatever judgment his handed out, which could be death.
Key in the situation is the eldest son of the man killed, who is given the power of being able to forgive or not. The veteran’s feeling of guilt is compounded on encountering the son and the widow.
The atmosphere grows tense when the local council meets to adjudicate, with feelings running high amid the differences of opinion and the obligation to do justice, which poses the issue of mercy versus a death penalty. Wheeler‘s fate lies in the hands of the son.
Director Gilmour, working from his own screenplay, makes the most of the Afghanistan locale, creating a strong sense of place. In the supporting cast, including non-professional locals, are Sher AlamMiskeenUstad and Amir Shah Talash. While the dialogue is basically in English, Pashto dialogue is also used.
Hovering over the film is our own knowledge of the suffering in the prolonged war and the inherent issues that the story raises. The film is very well done overall, with suspense built harrowingly as one awaits the conclusion with a feeling that it could go either way. With this tale Gilmour has found an original way to bring the war and its aftermath for those who have fought it before a contemporary public. A Lightyear Entertainment release. Reviewed July 25, 2019.