A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, October 17, 2016

Dukhtar (Afia Nathaniel, 2014)

Dukhtar takes place where tourists fear to tread: the mountainous parts of northern Pakistan. But it's not a film about inter-religious strife or terrorism, except for the kind of emotional terrorism that results from the conflict between ancient tribalism and the modern world. The "daughter" of the film's title -- in the opening credits the Urdu word "dukhtar" morphs into the English equivalent -- is Zainab (Saleha Aref), a bright girl on the verge of puberty, whom we see in a charming scene early in the film trying to teach her mother, Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz), some of the English that she has learned at school. But Zainab's education is about to be threatened: Her father, the tribal chief Daulat Khan (Asif Khan), is trying to put an end to the longstanding blood feud with a rival tribe led by Tor Gul (Abdullah Jan). They come to a deal: The feud will end if Daulat Khan will give his daughter in marriage to the elderly Tor Gul. But Allah Rakhi, who as a girl was married to Daulat Khan in a similar arrangement, doesn't want to see her daughter condemned to the same kind of life. She takes Zainab and flees. Along the way she persuades a young truck driver, Sohail (Mohib Mirza), to give them a lift. Initially reluctant, especially because the followers of both Daulat Khan and Tor Gul are in pursuit of the mother and daughter, Sohail finally gives in, and takes them, after several narrow escapes, to his home in the mountains and finally to crowded and busy Lahore, where Allah Rakhi is to meet with her mother, whom she hasn't seen since her marriage. Director Afia Nathaniel's screenplay is a bit on the formulaic side: We've seen many versions of this flight-and-pursuit road movie, and her film contains all of the usual close calls and missed connections we've come to expect. The movie gets its life and an appearance of freshness from the performances. Saleha Aref invests Zainab with the awkwardness and rebellion that you'd expect from a girl her age, Samiya Mumtaz is convincingly both fierce and tender, and the chemistry that develops between her character and Mohib Mirza's is convincing. Even better, the cinematography by Armughan Hassan is superb, from the sweeping spectacle of the mountain background to the rich use of color. The film departs from the conventions of its genre with an ambiguous ending, which points up the difficulty of trying to force real-life concerns like tribalism and the status of women into a movie formula: Neither a traditional happy ending nor a bleak triumph of the status quo would have felt right. Dukhtar is Nathaniel's first feature, and it shows more than just promise.

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