2007 // Australia - Pakistan // Benjamin Gilmour // November 18, 2008 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
In some respects, the war-rattled Pakistani setting of Benjamin Gilmour's Son of a Lion is almost incidental. The film assumes the shape of a thousand other tales about a father-son conflict over values, rarely discovering novel territory. However, the contemporary relevance of its cultural specifics engage, as does its grubby dusting of authentic familial pain. Eleven-year-old Niaz (Niaz Khan Shinwari) works as an apprentice in the village gun shop owned by his harsh father (Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad), a devout, humorless veteran of the Afghani mujahideen. With sensitivity and a studious gaze, Gilmour reveals that the illiterate Niaz dreams of attending school, perhaps to study music, an aspiration encouraged by his urbane uncle in Peshawar. Sher Alam will have none of it: He thinks only of his glorious battles against the Russians, his notion of Pashtun masculinity inexorably bound up with his religiosity and lust for firearms. Gilmour eavesdrops on conversations that hint at the complexity of the mainstream street-level worldview in central Asia, one characterized by hand-to-mouth despair, political canniness, and disgust with terrorists. Yet Son of a Lion's fundamental strengths are the heartbreaking performances from Shinwari and Ustad, who lend muscular pathos to a well-worn formula.