EDINBURGH – In a remote village in Afghanistan, a well-meaning Western film crew asks a teenaged bride-to-be to act on-camera, not realising the peril she then faces in Nelofer Pazira’s quietly effective drama Act of Dishonour.
The film combines a sensitive depiction of traditions that horrify outsiders with photography that conveys the desperate hard scrabble nature of life there and the astonishing beauty that arises from an unforgiving landscape. It will attract festival interest, might thrive in art houses and later prove an instructive piece for television and educators.
India-born Pazira grew up in Kabul and spent time in Pakistan before immigrating to Canada, where she won an acting prize for Kandahar, which centred on her fruitless attempt to find a childhood friend in Afghanistan.
She writes, directs and stars in Dishonour, playing Mejgan, an Afghan woman who grew up in Canada and returns to her homeland with a film crew hoping to sort out her conflicted emotions. Her friendship with a beautiful young woman named Mena (Marina Golbahari) prompts the crew’s director, Ben (Greg Bryk), to ask her to be in the film he is making. Reluctantly, and with the promise of a burqua that she needs for her wedding night, the girl agrees.
As villagers begin to gossip about the dishonour they consider Mena’s behaviour visits not only on her family but also on the village, her father (Ghafar Quoutbyar) and betrothed (Masood Serwary) begin to contemplate the ultimate punishment.
The tragedy is written in the beautiful eyes of the girl and the dazed despair of her forlorn father, and the film does them justice, even if they don’t find it elsewhere.