This Pakistani/Franco/German production opened the fourth Human Rights Nights film festival in Bologna/Italy. An award winning film, from director Sabiha Sumar, that portrays events during the Islamacization of Pakistan under General Zia al huq in 1979.
The story revolves around the experiences of a number of people in a small village, seemingly at ease with itself, though from the start there are omnious overtones, from the past in the form of flashbacks to horrific events in 1947 during the independence period, and for the future with the arrival of two preachers/propogandists from Lahore to the local mosque.
It’s an intelligent film, rarely relying on polemic or simplistic arguments. From the start we are introduced to real characters with motivations and fears. The spine chilling factor with this film is that throughout we can foretell tragedy, we can identify with the characters trapped in a spiral of increasingly violent actions.
It’s telling that the film was written and directed by a woman, as women are at the core of the film. They are constantly at the centre of the action, though powerless. Repeatedly the men’s actions are attributed to the protection of honour, and the protection of their women. Paradoxically this protection almost always results in the destruction of their women, and ultimately their own society.
The plot is well crafted, well paced, and intriguing. There’s a real grace behind the treatment of some of the most important moments, that leaves the viewer breathless.
One of the few faults in the film is the one dimensional view of the principal preacher/propogandist Rasheed, of whom we know little at the beginning of the film, and perhaps less by the end. It seems he is a catalyst in the purest sense – he’s introduced to provoke a reaction, and then dissappears.
There are no simple answers to the themes of the film – the secular vs the religious state, the rights of women in an Islamic society, the role of poverty in fundamentalism. The lack of answers however is one of the films strengths.
All the acting is of a high standard, in Particular Kiron Kher is stunning as Ayesha, the recently widowed mother of Saleem – who rightfully picked up the Best Actress award for her role, in last year’s Locarno festival (shared with Holly Hunter and Diana Dubrava).