A taut and exciting feature debut by the UK’s Sarmad Masud, based and shot in Pakistan

My Pure Land

Dir. Sarmad Masud. UK. 2017. 92 mins.

A standoff between the women of a house and the men who would take their home by force is the spine of this taut, factually-based first feature. A zigzagging timeline pads out the drama and deftly delivers a satisfying character arc; meanwhile the main action unfolds over a single night, enclosed within bullet-pocked walls. Set and filmed in Pakistan, the film takes as its theme the land disputes which are relatively common in the country and are frequently biased against female ownership of property. This solid debut from Sarmad Masud, whose short film Two Dosas was long-listed for both a BAFTA and an Oscar, is produced by Bill Kenwright.

Nazo’s trajectory from fearful kid to warrior woman is one of the most satisfying elements of the story

A feminist perspective and a novel location add a new angle to a story which, in many ways, follows a classic Western format. The siege of the homestead, an element of blood feud and ‘defenceless’ women forced to hold attackers at bay make for a premise which wouldn’t feel out of place in a John Ford film. And while the picture might not have the muscle for arthouse heavy lifting, it has the kind of feisty spirit and noteworthy backstory which should make it a certainty for further festival exposure and perhaps theatrical deals. Although the arthouse would seem to be the film’s natural home, it could also connect with Pakistani diaspora audiences, given a sufficiently persuasive marketing campaign.

A charismatic central turn from Suhaee Abro, playing Nazo, the older of the two teenage girls who must take up arms to defend their home, goes some way to counterbalancing the slightly uneven performance quality in the supporting roles. She’s a striking screen presence. Her petite frame and dancer’s physicality lends itself to flashbacks which show her as a diffident, uncertain child on the cusp of womanhood. Equally, she is arresting as the young woman, mature beyond her years, who stares down the hired goons who threaten her home.

The man who stakes a claim on the roof over her head is an uncle, Mehrban, who, it is revealed, has no qualms about the lengths to which he will go to get his hands on the building. By the time that her uncle makes his move, Nazo has already lost her brother and her father to his ruthless scheming.

The flashbacks which are woven through the story – and which make up a considerable chunk of the running time – don’t dissipate the tension of the central thread as much as you might expect. In fact, Nazo’s trajectory from fearful kid to warrior woman is one of the most satisfying elements of the story. Masud also shows the same event twice, from the perspective of two different people, answering some lingering questions about character motivation in the process.

The score is understated but atmospheric. And the production design is effective, particular in the prison scenes which show the slow decline of Nazo’s father. Coughing in a way which leaves you in no doubt of his eventual fate, he melts into a wall which looks wet with the sweat and desperation of the men locked within. The pigeons he kept on the roof of his house in happier times provide and on-the-nose metaphor for a spirit that returns home, even though his body is imprisoned.

Production companies: My Pure Land, Bill Kenwright Films

International sales: Independent mail@independentfilmcompany.com

Producer: Bill Kenwright

Screenplay: Sarmad Masud

Cinematography: Haider Zafar

Editor: Olly Stothert

Music: Tristan Cassel-Delavois

Production Design: Caroline Bailey

Main cast: Suhaee Abro, Eman Malik, Syed Tanveer Hussain, Razia Malik, Atif Akhtar Bhatti, Tayyab Azfal, Ahsen Murad, Sahib Ahmad