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Kabul love story

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Love Marriage in Kabul (G). Director: Amin Palangi. 84 minutes

There are lots of good stories to be found in Iranian-Australian filmmaker Amin Palangi's documentary feature Love Marriage in Kabul.

There's the story of Mahboba, a Sydney-based Afghani refugee who, following the death her young son 22 years ago, dedicated herself to supporting orphans and widows in Afghanistan through her charity Mahboba's Hope.

There's the story of Abdul, one of the first orphans to come under Mahboba's wing, who now needs her help if he is to marry the love of his life; Fatemeh lives with her father and brothers in a house across the road from the orphanage in Kabul, where she attended school and where she first met Abdul.

There's also the story of Fatemah's father Nik, a widower and onetime prisoner of the Taliban, who is desperate to ensure his family is properly cared for if he allows her to marry. Fatemeh has maintained the household since her mother's death, and as such Nik is demanding a prohibitive dowry of $10,000.

And to a lesser extent, there is the story of Virginia Haussegger, celebrated Canberra news presenter and feminist writer who has accompanied Mahboba on her most recent trip to Kabul, to witness Mahboba's work firsthand.

Palangi adopts an unobtrusive approach to his subjects, offering little commentary and rarely having them speak directly to camera. This engaging, observational approach highlights the personalities and in-the-moment emotional responses of his subjects, but also limits the viewer's understanding of the context of the events portrayed on screen, and of the backstories that might lead a particular character to behave in a certain way.

It works well where the film's heroes are concerned. One of the tasks Mahboba has to complete during this trip is to inform the manager of one of the orphanages under her care that she can no longer afford to fund it.

Shortly after she arrives at the orphanage though, where she receives a hero's welcome from children and manager alike, a lingering close-up of her face is enough to confirm she has changed her mind about closing it down. She'll work something out, she tells her companions after they depart.

Clearly she is a woman possessed of great courage, a big heart and even bigger faith.

Similarly, the central love story between Abdul and the rarely glimpsed Fatemeh is deeply touching. The wrangling between Mahboba and Nik, and all this implies about the ways in which young women's futures can be sold and traded as part of an archaic cultural norm, seems crass and is more than a little disturbing to witness.

But to see Abdul and Fatemeh communicating via flashlight across the road that separates them at night; to see Abdul's bashful grin as he pours over the love letters he has received from Fatemeh; to watch him quietly weep as Mahboba and Nik bicker over dollar amounts, is to realise that in this instance, at least, the 'transaction' is about enabling a mutually longed-for union to take place.

But other stories suffer from Palangi's detached approach. It is difficult to discern, for example, exactly why Haussegger is present. Her conversations with Mahboba stand in at times for the more formal interviews we might see in another style of documentary. But this is not her film; rather, she is just another character.

Yet Palangi provides no detail of Haussegger's longstanding interest in gender equality issues in Afghanistan, nor does he attempt to provide an understanding of how and if her experiences with Mahboba have influenced her perspective on the issues she'd previously engaged with only from afar.

Nik, meanwhile, is presented too simplistically as a villain. The film does little to interrogate the ways in which he has been shaped by his society's patriarchal views of family (something that demands interrogation), or how his grief for his wife and trauma incurred at the hands of the Taliban might have shaped his prickly demeanour.

These aspects of his backstory are all but completely neglected by Palangi, leaving us with no sympathy for or understanding of Nik but only justified frustration at his attempts to sabotage Abdul and Fatemeh's true love.

Love Marriage in Kabul won an audience award at this year's Sydney Film Festival, and it's easy to see why. It is a worthy, feelgood tribute to Mahboba's work, and provides a fascinating, at times unsettling insight into courtship and marriage in Afghanistan. There are good stories here, too, but they are not all well told.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

 Love Marriage in Kabul will feature at a number of special event screenings around Australia during November to raise money for Mahboba's Promise. There will be a Q&A with Amin Palangi at each screening. Dates as follows:

5–6 November, Chauvel Cinema, Sydney
13-14 November, Cinema Nova, Melbourne
20 November, Palace Nova, Adelaide
27 November, State, Hobart
3 December, Palace Electric, Canberra
5 December, Luna Paradiso, Perth

Topic tags: Love Marriage Kabul, Virginia Haussegger, Amin Palangi, Mahboba's Hope, Kabul, Afghanistan



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Existing comments

This story of dowry is indeed archaic. It is pagan, against the shariah of Islam and is oppressive for the groom. NO dowry to the father as bride price is allowed but a mehr or amount of gold or money or property has to be given to the wife by the husband. It is her property. "According to the Islamic jurisprudence, a woman married to a Muslim man has a right to get a property or money which is called mehr. It is advised to mention about mehr while solemnizing the nikah. However, either mentioning about it or not during the nikah, even if it is ignored or denied; the woman has the right of having mehr. That is to say, the mehr is the most natural right of woman. At the same time this is a divine right given to the woman. However, woman can remit the dowry to her husband after marrying. Unless woman remits that dowry voluntarily, her right to take it back continues."

Bilal | 30 October 2014  

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