Gallic helmer Claude Mourieras, now better known for such well-groomed domestic dramas as “Everything’s Fine” and “Mooncalf,” returns to his docu roots with the powerful, verite-style “The Zartale Women’s Journey.” Pic exposes culture clash between secular and theocratic ways of life when villagers from Zartale, Afghanistan, go to a hospital in Chagheharan for medical treatment. Though respectful of deeply entrenched religious beliefs of the mullah-revering country people, stately paced film has a quiet feminist edge which will give it legs at further fests and ensure TV airings.
Many of the individuals met are suffering from tuberculosis, which is rife in many regions. The only care many of them trust and can afford comes from the local imam who gives them prayers written on slips of paper to swallow instead of pills. Some of the women profiled cling to the old theocratic ways. Others, especially after an encounter with a female official, look forward to a future where they’ll be allowed to exercise equal rights and see their daughters become literate. Despite low-budget, framing captures ravishing images while rhythm is reminiscent or recent Iranian art cinema.