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

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
metaphorical
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
death.

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
soul.

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
captivating.

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
possibilities.

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
despair.

Adrin Neatrour

adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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