Benjamin Gilmour has created quite an extraordinary film with his debut, Son of Lion. Filmed on location in Pakistan, it concerns a young Pashtun boy named Niaz who lives in the village of Darra Adam Khel. His father is the local gunsmith, and recalls the glory days of fighting off the Russians in Afganistan. That Niaz craves an education, rather than a life selling guns, is an unconscionable blow to his father.
Son of a Lion boasts a simple story with astoundingly global repercussions. Niaz’s father often gathers with his friends to talk of the American presence in the region, Osama bin Laden, the Western view of the Islamic world, and of all things, Hollywood movies. (The father has tellingly seen only one movie – Rambo III, in which, he explains ‘the heroes were the Mujahideen’). The cast are made up of non-professionals, and the entire feature often feels like a documentary of sorts. Gilmour collaborated with local Pashtuns in an effort to create as authentic a story as possible, and it certainly seems that he’s succeeded. The film never relies on intrusive cinematic techniques to push its narrative points, instead letting the tale unfold on its own.
It doesn’t drive home any simplistic messages, either, which is good to see. It’s easy to feel for Niaz’s predicament, but his father is also portrayed sympathetically. He isn’t simply mistrusting of the Western world, he just wants to hold on to the cultural morals and traditions that he holds dear. That his son inadvertently shows him a way to a different view of the world is powerful indeed.
It is, purely and simply, a great story. The film took me to another place, so different from the world in which I move. It is a little slow to get going, and those up for a typical Hollywood romp will be left sorely disappointed, but this is easily one of the top Australian films of the year.
That this is an Australian/Pakistan co-production at first feels strange, until you realise how wonderful it is to see an Aussie film that doesn’t wear its origins on its sleeve. This is a fantastic example of how our industry could truly spread its wings, if only the money flowed a little more freely in the Arts.Rating: