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‘What We Left Unfinished’ review: Art & politics collide in incomplete films

Movies and politics make odd bedfellows.

What We Left Unfinished examines a part of cinema that comes up in every documentary about film. Movies and politics have always had a love/hate relationship. The two have used each other for assistance while constantly butting heads. This film looks at unfinished Afghan films that were supposed to show audiences the “ideal Afghan communist republic”. 

Though the films are unfinished, they still provide interesting historical context. The documentary can only surmise the intentions of the movies and why they were never completed, but it is a fair assumption that new political regimes were a factor. What We Left Unfinished gives a brief history lesson on film in Afghanistan. 

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The documentary does a great job of staying focused. For starters, it only focuses on a handful of films. This allows What We Left Unfinished to highlight how entwined the film industry and Afghan government were. (And apparently are. Director Mariam Ghani is the daughter of the current president of Afghanistan.) Movies stop and start as regimes come and go and the documentary effectively presents how each is a time capsule.

 

What We Left Unfinished | Dekanalog US Trailer from Dekanalog on Vimeo.

Ironically, What We Left Unfinished feels incomplete. This may be due to its short run time – it is barely over an hour – or it may be because it never establishes a clear timeline. Ghani also has to make many inferences since a lot of the clips never made it to post-production and are without sound. Most will be left wanting more. 

It is always interesting seeing how art and government intersect. This clash is especially fascinating to watch in What We Left Unfinished. The documentary paints a picture of a combustible film industry that was beholden to an even more volatile political base. Film fans and historians should love this.

What We Left Unfinished comes to theaters August 6

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