×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Jason Lei Howden, Samara Weaving and

    Daniel Radcliffe On Acting With Weapons Nailed To Your Hands

    How did “Guns Akimbo” director and writer Jason Lei Howden convince Daniel Radcliffe to play a character with guns nailed to his hands? Easy, he sent him the script. Radcliffe joined Howden and “Ready or Not’s” breakout star Samara Weaving in the Variety’s Toronto Film Festival studio, presented by AT&T to talk the limits of [...]

  • Box Office: It Chapter Two Maintains

    Box Office: 'It: Chapter Two' Continues International Reign With $47 Million

    Pennywise’s reign of terror hasn’t wavered: Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” maintained first place on box office charts, led by another strong showing overseas. The sequel, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, generated another $47 million at the international box office for a foreign tally of $169 million. After two weeks of release, “It Chapter [...]

  • First still from the set of

    Taika Waititi’s 'Jojo Rabbit' Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Festival Awards

    Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The honor positions the film for a potential Oscar run and bolsters its awards chances. That’s good news for Fox Searchlight, which must have been disappointed by the lackluster critical reception for the movie, a dark comedy [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content