There are many casualties of war but it’s often civilians who withstand the worst of the hardships and atrocities. For children growing-up amidst conflict it can be scary, puzzling and (more worryingly) seem normal. Some of the greatest war films have conveyed the horrors through the eyes of a child. It has produced profoundly powerful films like Ivan’s Childhood, Come and See, Forbidden Games, Graveyard of Fireflies and Pan’s Labyrinth. In The Black Hen, an unusual quest absorbs two young boys surrounded by conflict.
In the middle of the ten-year civil war in Nepal, a ceasefire is called. Prakash (Khadka Raj Nepali) and Kiran (Sukra Raj Rokaya) are two friends who live in a small village. The Headsman doesn’t approve of their friendship as the boys come from two different castes. When a hen they’ve brought up together is sold by Prakash’s father, the duo embark on a journey to get her back. Meanwhile, the Maoist rebels are quietly making inroads into the surrounding areas.
The Black Hen is a story about a boy attempting to deal with war and death in his own way. Prakash’s desperate attempts are a way of him internalising his emotions caused by his sister joining the Maoists. If he can return the fowl, then she will return safely. It’s a pact he makes with unseen forces. Director Min Bham creates a world of normality, keeping the fighting at the edges. The Black Hen is an understated and quietly affecting film which demonstrates the covert trauma children suffer in war.
The Black Hen is out in cinemas from Friday.