At Five In The Afternoon Review

Set in post-Taliban Afghanistan, the first film to be made there after the war, At Five In The Afternoon takes a harsh look of the aftermath, the everyday hazards that persist and the legacy that a harsh fundamentalist regime has left behind, particularly regarding the attitudes towards women.

Nogreh has ambitions to be the president of the new Afghanistan, believing that a woman could only improve the situation the country is in and change attitudes, but it’s a position that seems well beyond the reach of a young schoolgirl. She has however heard of Banazir Bhutto in Pakistan and wants to find out more about what it is women need to do to achieve a position of authority, asking people for information and seeking out speeches. Her dream seems all the more unlikely since her father, a religious fundamentalist, doesn’t believe that she should even be allowed to go to school and should remain permanently hidden behind her burqa. Her father’s fanaticism is contrasted with Nogreh’s humanism. Seeing trucks of refugees who had fled the country under the Taliban regime returning to Kabul, she directs them to the ruins where she lives with her father and her sister-in-law, who is awaiting the return of her soldier husband and is unable to feed their dying baby. Her father cannot abide the blasphemous behaviour of the people who arrive there, their sinful playing of music finally driving him and his family out onto the road.

At Five In The Afternoon looks at the harm that has been done to a generation of young women under a brutal regime, damage that has been compounded by the subsequent destruction of the country during the war, and questions what can be done to rectify the damage. Written by Samira, based on a novel by her father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar), with assistant direction from his wife Marzieh Meshkini (The Day I Became A Woman), the film is a typically accomplished piece of work from the Makhmalbaf Film House in every respect. The film is beautifully photographed with an amazing eye for the colour of life that stands out from the barren backgrounds and ruins of Afghanistan. Samira Makhmalbaf directs with her customary directness with not a superfluous scene or even a single shot wasted – everything is purposeful and in service of the film’s message. If the film hadn’t chosen the title of the famous Federico García Lorca poem, it would almost certainly have been called ‘The White Shoes’, following the young director’s custom in her previous films – The Apple, Blackboards – of finding an object of symbolism to represent the freedoms sought by her characters. This symbolism is used extremely powerfully in At Five In The Afternoon, particularly during one superb scene as Nogreh walks majestically in her forbidden white shoes from the ruins of a destroyed presidential palace. Only one or two scenes seem to be misjudged, feeling a little heavy-handed and failing to make the desired impact, but this is nonetheless another wonderfully accomplished piece of filmmaking from the young Iranian director – important, relevant and vital.

Artificial Eye continue to impress in the presentation of their films with a beautiful transfer on this DVD. The video quality is almost perfect – bright, vivid, colourful, clear and sharp with not a single mark or flaw in the print. Only occasionally does a slight flicker show in the telecine transfer or in compression artefacting, but you’d need to be looking really closely to find any faults here. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is also strong, remaining clear throughout and is appropriately mixed. English subtitles are optional and clearly readable.

A Theatrical Trailer (1:34) is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1. The Makhmalbaf family connections show again in the Making of Documentary (13:20), a behind the scenes look at the film, directed by Samira’s 14 year-old sister Hana Makhmalbaf, whose full-length feature on the making of the film, Joy Of Madness is released on DVD by Tartan. The short behind-the scenes footage here gives some indication of how hard the young director works on her films. There is a brief Filmography for Samira Makhmalbaf, covering the earlier The Apple (1997) (also just released on DVD by Artificial Eye), Blackboards (2000) and her God, Construction and Destruction episode of 11’09’’01 (2001). An Interview with Samira Makhmalbaf (37:51) is in English with no subtitles. The director talks about what she wanted to achieve with her film, to show – and learn for herself – what life is really like for the people of Afghanistan, beyond the superficial image we have from TV news reports.

Even if you were just to look at At Five In The Afternoon from the point of view of curiosity of what life must be like for people in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, the film is a fascinating, in-depth look at ordinary people’s lives, filmed with care and precision by a skillful and intelligent director. The film however operates on so many levels of social realism, from the hopes and illusions of a young girl, to the legacy of a brutal regime and a destructive war, with the remaining restrictions and prejudices that continue to drag the people of Afghanistan down. Whichever way you look at it, At Five In The Afternoon is a powerful and impressive film and it could hardly be better presented on DVD.

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Last updated: 24/06/2018 21:33:41

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