Daily Archives: Monday, April 8, 2013

  • At five in the afternoon Samira Makmalbaf (2003 Iran.Fr)

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    At five in the afternoon Samira
    Makmalbaf (2003 Iran.Fr) Agheleh Rezaie; Abdolgani Yousefrazi

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 4 April
    2013 Ticket price: £5

    shoes seen in a mirror

    The phrase,
    At five in the afternoon (5AN), the recitation of which, spoken over
    a desolate and empty landscape, opens the film, is taken from the
    Lorca poem with the same title. The Lorca poem is a lament for the
    goring to death in 1934 in the bull ring, of his friend, the matador
    Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. Samira Makmalbaf’s (SM)
    film is also a lament for the loss of something vital in the world,
    the independent spirit of the female. Perhaps 5AM also has a
    resonance, in that the harsh exposed public elements of Afghan
    society have characteristics that make it similar to the bull ring.
    Afghanistan as a place where those who expose themselves to the five
    o’clock light of the public arena and its judgement, are gored to

    Enfolded into the 5AN is the
    journey towards the lament. A lament for life suffocated and for the
    type of death that awaits independent spirit, in particular but not
    exclusively the female, in a society that has been twisted by brutal
    external forces, and taken blind refuge in tradition. But although
    5AN, has a pessimistic ending with the death of Laylomah’s child and
    the deeper exile of Nograh into the Taliban heartlands, the film is
    remarkable and sustained by its affirmation of spirit. I think SM
    avoids the simplistic crass iteration of despair;
    SM has produced a true lament that whilst marking the point of
    death, affirms the forces that are life bestowing. The flesh may die;
    spirit is a flame that can always be rekindled. The lament it seems
    to me is always about humans as worlds, humans as a totality in
    themselves of a world, that always has the possibility of reaching
    out and interpenetrating and affecting contiguous beings. Body and

    And this is the strength of
    SM’s film. Though life may now, in 2013, for Afghan women and men be
    lived out in the enveloping shadow of reactive fundamentalism, the
    shibboleths of Mullahs: – God knows all
    we do – women refrain from dancing. These dour
    incantations cannot extinguish the actuality that the
    expression of joy and the gift of personal voice are in themselves
    the flame of life.

    5AN establishes that it is,
    the within, that nurtures spirit. Oppressors whether religious or
    political have always attempted to suppress ‘within space’. In 5AM
    the girls/ young women, sit with their veils off in the courtyard of
    the girls school. Without veil they are alive and vital as they
    discuss the Taliban and its repression of women, and then discuss the
    idea of the possibility of a woman becoming the president of
    Afghanistan. The vitality of this debate is electrifying and

    These young women, in a film
    made in 2002 ( released 2003), the first year of the American (UN/
    IFOR) invasion after 14 years of Taliban rule, have come to life like
    seeds in the desert after rain. There is evidenced a collective
    female courage that simply has lain low until conditions changed.
    The debate is innocent and naive but passionate. It affirms
    something precious in life that always endures. Even the later death
    of one of the most outspoken young women in a suicide bombing, and
    the foreseen deterioration of security, cannot lessen the intensity
    of feeling expressed and the certainty that these feelings and
    insights can never be totally crushed.

    Today we see the
    courage of Malala Yousafzai from
    the tribal lands in Pakistan and we recognise in her the young women
    in this film

    In 5AN, SM finds a visual
    complement to her script in way she uses images of women in
    Afghanistan. These images of women in burqas destroy the cliches
    that we normally accept as signifying women in Afghan culture. The
    shots of the young women moving en masse in their blue burqas take on
    a different meaning because we have seen this visual collective of
    burqas represent themselves effectively as individuals: we have heard
    their voices. We now know they have voice. The usual shots in both
    photographs and in film of women in full burqa huddled in groups,
    normally signify to the Western gaze a passivity of being, a lacking
    of individual will. SM confronts and demolishes the cliche by giving
    the viewer access to the simple fact that behind the image of a group
    of women traditionally attired, there are as many individual voices.
    Voices denied but nevertheless actual. This outer aspect of
    uniformity is only an appearance behind which lies that which is to
    be revealed.

    The protagonist, Nograh gives
    the film its psychic movement. It again seems that SM has not wanted
    to produce a sort of Afghan Mouchette or Rosetta. In some senses
    both these films close down their female protagonists and allow them
    little inner or outer space to do other than to slide down into
    death. Nograh has multiple dimensions
    through which her being is defined. Nograh locked into an actual
    world. creates worlds, other spaces for her existence outside of the
    fundamentalist cage that her father has put her in. Nograh
    externally complies with the strictures of her father; and in SM’s
    scenario there is no implied criticism of the father. He is severe;
    perhaps his freedom and groundedness consist in his strict
    observance. He has no ability to see any other choice for his
    daughter other than to impose on her his own beliefs. Outwardly
    Nograh obeys, each act of obeisance closing down
    her outer world. But within there is another story. The debate in
    the school captures her imagination and transforms her internal
    world. The idea of a woman becoming president of Afghanistan, like
    Bhutto in Pakistan, infiltrates her consciousness feeding her
    imagination. Her excitement communicates itself to the young poet
    who is enchanted by her vision and encourages the expression of the
    fantasy. The idea becomes part of her meaningful world of

    The leitmotif running
    through the film is the pair of white heeled shoes secreted by Nograh
    (N). This is the second time in a couple of weeks where I have seen
    women’s shoes have featured as a significant force in a movie.
    Park’s Stoker uses the cathectic charge of heeled shoes as part of
    his movie’s signage, as a symbol. In the case of Stoker the high heel
    shoes act as a fetish for an erotically charged rite de passage from
    adolescence to womanhood. In Stoker. The high heeled shoes are used
    as a laboriously fostered symbolic cliche for sexual potency and
    freedom, a movement from infantalised incest to sexual independence.
    In 5AN I think it is otherwise. SM uses the modest pair of white
    heeled shoes that Nograh has somehow acquired not as a symbol but
    rather as a practical tool; a means by which N may pass from one
    world through into another. The shoes have a fairy tale quality. The
    shoes are secret shoes, secreted shoes, power shoes. Slipped onto her
    feet they are in themselves the entry into another world.

    N’s shoes, above all for
    her are a form of practical magic. They transform reality. They are
    not a statement. They are not a symbol. They enable her to move.

    5Am was cogently and
    powerfully shot amidst the ruins of Afghanistan. SM films a country
    that has been smashed up and is overwhelmed by internal migration of
    refugees. It is collapsing into chaos; perhaps the only order is
    religion. But 5AM seeks out in its scenario the visual
    possibilities of the ruins. N’s father fleeing from what he sees as
    profane chaos, finds shelter in the ruins of a old colonnaded palace,
    with huge high ceilinged rooms. A vastness and emptiness define this
    structure in opposition to the density and fullness of the cities.
    And, there is one shot of N, in her white heeled shoes as she walks
    on the flagstones between the monumental colonnade, taking possession
    of the space in her billowing blue burqa. It is a moment of magic.
    As N walks she becomes a queen or the president of Afghanistan, alone
    in this palace. The walk is an unforgettable act of personal power.
    Her power; a woman’s power.

    Although cruelly and
    honestly pessimistic in its tone and in the final destination of N,
    stranded in desolation and emptiness and death, with her father, 5AM
    does not leave a psychic legacy of hopelessness. The characters are
    not, as in so many movies, mere mechanical puppets attached to the
    working out of script. 5AN is set and shot in a real world in the
    rawness of Afghan society. A society molded by the terrible forces
    released by invasion and war. But the characters have dignity of
    their own worlds, both father and daughter and it is this inner
    dignity that carries them and carries us through the movie without

    Adrin Neatrour