Dir/scr: Barmak Akram. Afghanistan-France. 2013. 86mins
A stark, tough, but ultimately gripping story of a young Afghan woman whose life is turned upside down when she becomes pregnant when not married, Barmak Akram’s impressively sustained drama Wajma (An Afghan Love Story) is an easy fit into the film festival circuit.
A thoughtful and impressive film that tells its sobering story with in a relatively downbeat documentary style.
The film, which was a Sundance screenplay prizewinner and screened recently at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival, may well be a bleak examination of how honour must be upheld, but the shooting style also offers great insight into how young people in modern-day Afghanistan live.
The opening of the film says that it was inspired by real events, with the first section of the story detailing the burgeoning relationship between 20 year-old Wajma (Wajma Bahar) and 25 year-old waiter Mustafa (Mustafa Habibi). She lives with her mother, grandmother and brother – while her father (Hadji Gul, who stared in Akram’s earlier film Kabul Kid) works clearing minefields in the south of the country – while he fled Iran and now lives with his mother in a city centre flat. She has just been accepted into law school while he fancies himself of something of a charmer.
The young couple met in surreptitious ways, aware they are breaking the rules of society but carried away with their romance. Well, she is far more than he. When she gets pregnant he immediately rejects her saying he would only marry a virgin and claiming she must have been with other men since she did not bleed when they had intercourse.
The first part of the film is the most intriguing – and appears to offer an honest and open view of life for young people in the country – though acts as a prelude to the more predictably melodramatic moments to come as her father finds out about the pregnancy and returns in anger. He brutally beats and imprisons her, threatens to set her on fire and after being relatively calmer visits a lawyer friend who tells him he would only have the right to kill the couple if he had caught them in the act of fornication.
A thoughtful and impressive film that tells its sobering story with in a relatively downbeat documentary style, but is all better for taking this route and not resorting to over-the-top dramatic clichés.
Production companies: Kabuli Film, Sarl Ariroad Production
International sales: Doc & Film Intl., www.docandfilm.com
Producer: Barmak Akram
Cinematography: Barmak Akram
Editors: Barmak Akram, Herve de Luze, Isabelle Ingold
Music: Barmak Akram, Mathieu Chedid, Susheela Raman
Main cast: Wajma Bahar, Mustafa Habibi, Hadji Gul, Breshna Bahar