A childrenâ€™s movie.
Find it on youtube.
The first scene shows a large group of women, mostly widows covered head-to-toe in blue, demanding that the Taliban allow them to work. A small group of Taliban members respond shooting guns, spraying the women with water hoses, and forcing a few women into what looks like a chicken coop. And then one of them assaults the camera.
The girlâ€™s mother (only one character gets a name and it is not the girl or her mother) is no longer able to work at the hospital. The hospital is closing, the management is leaving, and the Taliban is harassing everyone. The girlâ€™s mother is a widow, and there are no other male relatives in the family. A few male friends and acquaintances pretend to be her husband so that they can accompany her outside, but their willingness to risk their lives for this ruse lasts only so long. With a speech that sounds like a bit of feminist idealism, but veers a bit into desperate practicality, the grandmother cuts the girlâ€™s hair and alters the late fatherâ€™s clothes to make them child-sized. Now she can accompany her mother outside to and from work. She also manages to get work under a former acquaintance of her motherâ€™s.
There are a few problems with this plan to have her pretend to be a boy: she is not Mulan. Dressing up as a boy was not her idea, but her grandmotherâ€™s idea. She has little knowledge about the world of men or even of boys; she frequently messes up, and every little faux pas is an opportunity that the wrong person will find out. She is brave enough for going through with this plan, but her bravery goes only so far, and sometimes she freezes up or does something frustratingly stupid out of overwhelming terror. And the Taliban are always suspicious. It is her luck that the people who learn about it early on do not inform the Taliban, but that luck can go only so far. There is an overwhelming sense of dread and despair that overshadows any opportunity for humor that comes from the premise of a girl pretending to be a boy. The moments of dark (really dark) irony are more moments for rage and disbelief instead of cynical laughter. There are maybe two moments in the movie that are genuinely kind of funny, but only one of them is still funny by the end of the movie; the otherâ€¦is no longer funny, not even in a dark or ironic manner.
The story is fairly short at 83 minutes, but we can see hints at other stories that could have been told, such as the man with the sick father or the European woman trying to help out at the hospital or the almost completely unseen cameraman. The question of why there are so many widows is never truly answered, but a military vehicle shown near the Taliban school provides a pretty clear hint.
While the movie is realistic for the most part, there are a few moments of flashbacks, slow motion, and dream sequences. There are a few cuts to her skipping rope, which could be taken as a sign of the freedom that she once thought that she had and the childhood that she has given up. The soundtrack, which is barely there, sounds like a door creaking back and forth in the wind, but the door to what?
One thing that takes a bit of getting used to is the acting. It is very low-key. Sometimes, it seems as if the actors are simply reciting lines that they just read as quickly as they can. I am not sure if this is an acting style or whether it is because this was the first Afghan movie allowed to be filmed in the country for seven years. I guess that I will just have to watch more Afghan movies to find out. I suppose that it sounds like the way Afghanis talk, but I guess that I never really paid enough attention to their speaking style in real life when I heard them talk.
This is a very disturbing movie. The MPAA has rated it PG-13 and that seems correct only technically. We donâ€™t actually see much in the way of violence or â€œadult contentâ€, but a lot of what probably happens comes across as even worse because we donâ€™t just donâ€™t know or because our imagination is left to run wild. Overall mood of the film and the implications of a couple scenes could have been enough to give it an R rating. At the same time, the PG of the PG-13 stands for â€œParental Guidanceâ€, and this is probably one of the best examples of a film that lives up to that rating. Given some recent events, some parental guidance would definitely be warranted. Whether children should be allowed to watch this movie depends on the child and depends on whether the parent is okay with the child watching it. The girl in the film was 12-years-old at the time, so one might have to ask whether 12-year-old viewers might identify with the protagonist and how that may affect what they get out of the movie.
Like the other Afghan movie that I have reviewed (well, the only other Afghan movie that I could sit through), this movie has foreign funding, particularly from Iran, Ireland, Japan, and the Netherlands. Whether this means that the movie caters to what outsiders believe the country to be like instead of giving Afghans what they want to see, I cannot say.
This is a good film to bring about discussions about womenâ€™s rights, of Islam, of religious fundamentalism, of bullying, and whatever else. One could talk about the teenage blogger in Pakistan who was shot in the head for criticizing the Taliban, or the Afghan girl who lost her father, brother to a Taliban attack when she was six and received reconstructive surgery in New York. In the right context, this movie could inspire curiosity and compassion; in the wrong context, it could harden negative views of Islam further widen the divide that one might see between the value systems of the â€œIslamic Worldâ€ and the â€œWestern Worldâ€. This is a movie that should inspire questions. Questions about how a culture could become like what was shown in the movie, how a culture stays like that, how one could survive in that, how one could change it, stuff like that. It should not be considered an answer to any question, particularly none that include the use of bombs. And while it is good to draw parallels between the place shown in the film and the place that we live in, that can often lead to self-centered naval gazing or ridiculous claims that our country is heading in that direction because of Obama or the GOP. We must always remember that there is a larger world out there that we may not understand now, but we may begin to understand if we just try. Watching this movie may be an uncomfortable way to start, but it is only a movie, and it is only a start.
Next Time: Battle Royale (Japan: 2000, approx. 120 minutes).
Time After Next: Dream Home (Hong Kong: 2010, approx. 95 minutes).