Overview: Mahboba Rawi, an Afghani-Australian woman dedicated to helping women and orphans in Afghanistan, struggles to make a love marriage happen between an orphan she saved years ago and a woman whose father makes seemingly impossible demands. 2014; Not Rated; 85 minutes.

Mahboba’s Promise: Amin Palangi’s documentary lacks flashy editing or cinematic compositions, instead allowing the people of Kabul to create the film’s dynamism. The result is a film that never feels manipulative but is also emotionally distant at times. While the central narrative arc of the film rests on securing a successful reunion and marriage of young lovers Abdul and Fatemeh, the film is really about Mahboba. It’s easy to see why Palangi chose her as the central subject of his documentary; even without going into extensive detail about her backstory and the establishment of her organization, her story and efforts as presented in this film are alone quite remarkable. Mahboba’s strong-will, quick wit, and commitment to women and children through her non-profit organization, Mahboba’s Promise, make her a subject worth following. The documentary excels at showcasing the scope of Mahboba’s efforts as we not only witness scenes of Mahboba visiting the orphanages and girl’s schools she runs, but also the hardship of maintaining a non-profit that costs more money than it can collect. While we’re privy to Mahboba’s dealings with Fatemeh’s father who requests a dowry of $5,000 or a virgin wife for his son, the love story of Abdul and Fatemeh is sometimes lost in the shuffle of discussions of money and arranged marriages. The film seems interested primarily in Mahboba, and it is only because she is interested in the love marriage that the film takes interest in Abul and Fatemeh by default.

Love Story: There are some great moments with Abdul that are filled with both beautiful declarations of love and heartbreaking fear and sadness that he will be unable to marry Fatemeh. But Fatemeh is barely seen until the last half hour of the film, and even then we spend very little time getting to know her. This of course could simply be a result of her father’s overprotective nature, but still I wish we’d been able to see more from Abdul and Fatemeh. When they are reunited at the film’s end, the film spends no time with them together. When Mahboba’s work is done, so is the film’s. While their lack of prominence doesn’t make the documentary any less important a look at the great work being done in Kabul, the love story component isn’t as personal or as focused as the title suggests.

A Different Side: From the perspective of an American who is largely ignorant of the culture and traditions of Afghanistan, I have to admit, it was refreshing to see a side of the country outside of news clips that would try to make you believe it is a place filled only with violence. There’s a lot of love in this film, and while there are setbacks and some uncomfortable moments where tradition trumps freedom, Love Marriage in Kabul is a positive depiction of Afghanistan and its people. For that aspect, and Mahboba’s non-profit work, the film is an informative experience even if the emotional experience comes up a bit short.

Grade: B

 

This film and countless others will be screening at the 18th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham, North Carolina from April 9-12. Tickets are available online.