'Wolf and Sheep' (2016) Review/Analysis
The personal and emotional quintessence of “Wolf and Sheep” is as true to the audience as it is to its creator Shahrbanoo Sadat. The film was presented on Thursday evening in McConomy Theatre, marking the second of fourteen features presented in the annual Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival.
The film is a quasi-documentary, depicting the livelihoods of people in a shepherd village in central Afghanistan without modern technology. There is no central plot to the film, which strays from any narrative structure but manages to show world and its issues with zero common relation to us other than the humanity and nature that the characters communicate.
The picture is cultivated in the vision of its director, and is inspired to reveal the folklore and culture that her segregated and historically discriminated people have. In its short runtime of 86 minutes is spliced the mysterious and magical story of a green naked fairy woman masquerading as a wolf, the inner struggles of children finding meaning in a place where there is nothing of any significant financial worth, and off in the distance, the placement of this village within the greater picture of Afghanistan, with turmoil looming on the horizon.
According to Sadat, she did not have the audience in mind during the film’s production, perhaps referring to a western mindset. For example, one of the questions that was looming in my mind during the screening was whether or not the onscreen and offscreen destruction of animals was an effect, or if it was an actual animal getting slaughtered for the sake of the film. The film’s very opening is a goat being bled. Throughout, there are shots of animals being butchered that do not cut away to signify that this is the very real life these people live. Of course, in Western film productions, the destruction of any animal is a cardinal sin, and so this dichotomy is an interesting situation to analyze. I came to the conclusion that one should not conform independent foreign artworks and ways of living to strictly western moral compasses, within reason.
In this film, the relationship between men and women is invisible. They are never sharing the screen with one another in any serious way at any point. In fact, in the opening scenes, the men are introduced. After a very long pan, the women come into frame, where they begin having a discussion on the relationships of women to men in certain families. As a matter of fact, we view what the women have to do all day: cook, tend to children, clean, and handle dung from livestock. Not once are we ever shown what the men do all day. That is completely left up to the audience's imagination.
Even further from the men and the women are the children, who shepherd the sheep and livestock around, play with slings, and get into trouble. One scene which shocked the audience was when a boy had his eye taken out by a rock in a sling, showing a grotesque display of blood and flesh. The boy was diagnosed to be blind out of that eye for the rest of his life, and the men of the village came to a judicial decision that the family of the perpetrator must pay the father of the victim for damages, which the father settles for a single bull and forgiveness.
In another scene, which is perhaps the most consequential to what I believe is the meaning of the film, is when an unseen wolf attacks a herd of sheep due to the negligence of the children herding them. We see how such conflict is dealt with, and the relationship between the defenseless sheep, their predator the wolf, and the negligent shepherd. This relationship is echoed in the very last scene of the film when gunmen are coming to the village and everyone must run away, leaving their houses behind for their attackers to destroy. In the end, they become the defenseless sheep, and the unseen wolf is there to kill them, with no shepherd around to protect them. It’s sort of like the ending to “Fiddler on the Roof.” Although “Wolf and Sheep" does not explicitly state the party which the gunmen represent, they are based clearly on the Soviet invaders of the late 1970s who caused diaspora amongst the sheep villages of central Afghanistan, an experience that the director lived through in her youth.
The film presents us with the idea that without the shepherd, there are only wolves and sheep, and that the predator will ceaselessly consume the prey until the day comes for their eradication. There must come a shepherd figure to defend the sheep – whoever wishes to stand against the villagers’ plights.
I brought up this interpretation to Sadat, who told me that this was not the intended message of the film, nor is it how she sees the ending. That is what is so remarkable about the picture: that it is such an open story, without any discernible reason to exist other than the wish to exist for its own sake, that the world may look upon it and take their own meaning from it.