×

Love Crimes of Kabul

Documaker Tanaz Eshaghian directly indicts Afghani society for its treatment of women and indirectly indicts the West for its stance.

With:
With: Zia, Aleema, Sabereh, Kareema. (Dari, Pashto dialogue)

The women-in-prison genre has seldom seen an entry like “Love Crimes of Kabul,” in which documaker Tanaz Eshaghian directly indicts Afghani society for its treatment of women and indirectly indicts the West for its involvement in a system so mortifyingly barbaric. HBO exposure will give the pic a good ride, but festival play and perhaps even an arthouse release could further its reach.

Eshaghian, the Iranian-American director of “Be Like Others” (which concerned Iran’s coercive policy of sex-change operations for homosexuals), turns her camera on Badam Bagh prison, half of whose 125 inmates are incarcerated for “moral crimes”: adultery, premarital sex, running away from home (often from an abusive household). From a Western perspective, the subject matter is the stuff of righteous indignation. But what Eshaghian reveals about the systemic corruption within a supposedly theocratic institution will transcend culture in its ability to exasperate.

The case of Sabereh, a 17-year-old turned in by her own father after he caught her with a boy, is perhaps the film’s most flagrant case of distorted justice. Only after her virginity is established by medical examination is she accused of sodomy, which seems to be an even more heinous offense than premarital intercourse. While Sabereh maintains her innocence to the camera, the court claims she’s confessed. Eshaghian can’t prove the court is lying, since she’s barred from photographing the trials themselves, but the circumstantial evidence is fairly convincing.

How the filmmakers obtained such access to the prison and its inmates is wonder enough, but what Eshaghian and d.p. Kat Patterson shoot is so fly-on-the-wall immersive as to dissolve the wall between story and screen. Kareema, unmarried and pregnant, has a conversation with her mother through a prison fence that is simply astounding in its frankness.

Similarly honest are the conversations between Aleema, who fled her abusive home, and Zia, with whom she took refuge. The subsequent web of accusations and half-truths — including Zia’s insistence that Aleema marry her son, whom she has somehow dishonored — utterly confuses the facts, but the naked bitterness of the exchanges is startling. Whether Eshaghian’s subjects thought they were protected by the language barrier, or whether they’re simply not very camera-savvy, they seem utterly free of inhibitions, if not of anger, bile and regret.

“If they were good women, they wouldn’t be here,” says a prison guard at the beginning of the film, thus establishing the attitude that seems to guide Afghani justice. The “love criminals” of Kabul are more or less held in the same regard as the killers and smugglers they’re incarcerated with, even by each other; one of the film’s more fascinating aspects is the lack of empathy many of the prisoners seem to feel toward each other, and the judgment each one feels entitled pass on her fellow inmates. If a woman at Badam Bagh feels she can condemn the morality by which she’s been prosecuted, it’s only because she has nothing else to lose.

Production values are adequate, the visuals clearly reflecting the circumstances under which shooting took place.

Love Crimes of Kabul

Documentary

Production: An HBO Documentary Films presentation. Produced by Tanaz Eshaghian, Christoph Jorg. Executive producer, Sheila Nevins. Directed by Tanaz Eshaghian.

Crew: Camera (color), Kat Patterson; editor, Jay Freund; music, Florencia Di Concilio; sound, Patterson. Reviewed at Hot Docs Film Festival (Intl. Spectrum), Toronto, May 4, 2011. Running time: 72 MIN.

With: With: Zia, Aleema, Sabereh, Kareema. (Dari, Pashto dialogue)

More Film

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Motion Pictures Academy Announces Scientific and Technical Awards

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced nine scientific and technical achievements, represented by 27 individual recipients, to be honored at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation Feb. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. In addition, Curtis Clark will be receiving the John A. Bonner Award for his service [...]

  • Once Upon a Deadpool trailer

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Deadpool' Earns $1 Million on Wednesday

    Fox’s “Once Upon a Deadpool,” a reimagining of “Deadpool 2,” picked up an estimated $1 million from 1,566 theaters during Wednesday previews. In the PG-13 version, the Merc with a Mouth retells the heroic sequel as a bedtime story to Fred Savage a la “Princess Bride.” Because there aren’t clear comps, rival studios and industry [...]

  • Queen of Scots Hair and Makeup

    'Mary Queen of Scots' Hair, Makeup Artist Gave Substance and Style to Battling Queens

    Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair of several queens over the years: Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (she won an Oscar for the former) and Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria.”  In fact, she had to be convinced to do it again for Saoirse Ronan’s Queen Mary and Margot Robbie’s [...]

  • Richard E. Grant Variety Facetime Interview

    Richard E. Grant on Working With Melissa McCarthy on 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'

    Richard E. Grant has been winning kudos for his supporting role in Fox Searchlight’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” The film, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, was directed by Marielle Heller and stars Melissa McCarthy as real-life celebrity biography Lee Israel. Was “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” a fast shoot? Yes, 26 days and [...]

  • WME Veteran Ari Greenburg Promoted to

    WME Veteran Ari Greenburg Promoted to President of Talent Agency

    WME veteran Ari Greenburg, one of the original Endeavor staffers who helped build the talent agency that became an industry powerhouse, has been promoted to president. Greenburg will oversee all daily operations across WME and its offices in Beverly Hills, New York, Nashville, London and Sydney. The promotion recognizes the role that Greenburg has played [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron Says He Owes 'Roma'

    Alfonso Cuaron Says He Owes 'Roma' in Part to Cannes' Thierry Fremaux

    At a special screening of “Roma” in Paris, Alfonso Cuaron said he owed the film to Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux, who encouraged him to return to Mexico to make a movie – and who, ironically, failed to nab the title for Cannes because of the festival’s spat with Netflix. Fremaux was eager to select [...]

  • Forrest Gump

    Guild of Music Supervisors Awards to Honor Joel Sill; King Princess to Perform (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Guild of Music Supervisors has announced that Joel Sill will receive the organization’s Legacy Award for his contribution to music in film. Sill’s body of work includes “Forrest Gump,” “The Goonies,” “Blade Runner,” “The Color Purple” and “My Cousin Vinny.” He will be joined by Spotify’s RISE artist, King Princess, who will be performing as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content