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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
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   At Five in the Afternoon  


At Five in the Afternoon

Reviewed by Liverbird

Iranian Title:Panj é asr
Director: Samira Makhmalbaf
Writing Credits: Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Samira Makhmalbaf
Cast: Agheleh Rezaie, Abdolgani Yousefrazi, Razi Mohebi, Marzieh Amin
Genre: Drama
Country: Iran
Language: Persian, Kurdish, Afrikaans
Year Released: 2003
Runtime: 105 min

During the first portions of the film, the audience found it amusing whenever the men saw an uncovered lady, turned to the wall and muttered for forgiveness from God.

Seriously, I did not find it amusing. It reeked of arrogance. A form of arrogance that stemmed something feminist thought opposed.

Why were those scenes funny or amusing? Was it because for us, an audience who could afford to pay for an $8.90 ticket for a film, had the moral right to judge how primitive the thoughts of those "fanatical" men, who placed their faith over and above their emotions and their survival?

As much as we can laugh at that sight, not many have realized that it was their faith which kept them going and because of that, their faith is a precious and integral part of their existence.

Feminist concepts dominate this film and that is all about it.

The filmmaker presented many dichotomies between conventional thoughts and feminist concepts in the film. Maybe it became an overkill, but one thing is for sure, it is one of those "either you see it or you don’t" kind of thing.

First, we have the obvious ones – the oppression women faced from their society, their religion, their environment and even their loved ones, i.e., family. The first few scenes set the tone of the film with the little song about how women should behave in a way to protect men from lust or that her charm must be concealed and therefore, she should not dance. Then, we got a juxtaposition when the female protagonist lifted off her burqa, reached into her bag and took out a pair of high-heeled shoes, which to me, was a metaphor for the women’s secret and overt desire to break out of the current social pressures and discrimination.

Then, we were treated to the scene when a survey was conducted amongst the schoolgirls, some as young as twelve. They were asked their ambitions. The teacher responded positively when she asked if any of them wanted to be a teacher, a presumably neutral vocation. When the word "engineers" was uttered, the girls started off being confident about how they could and would be successful in their lives as engineers. Then, uncertainty set in because the social norms of their present did not grant them the optimism of whether they could be engineers in the first place. From there, a rather pointless question of who wanted to be the President was asked and of which, only three girls stood up prominently.

The political discussions among the schoolgirls were interesting scenes. When one would have thought that survival was paramount in the minds of the people of Afghanistan in their war ravaged lands and that their lives / philosophies should have been simplistic, the level of maturity displayed through the schoolgirls’ discussions astounded me. Their passion though raw in fighting for their rights and the rights of other women as well as their political ambitions of "mothering" the land was an eye-opener, in particular the twelve-year-old girl who related how her resolve was set after her father and brother were killed. Like a political martyr, she indicated that she was not seeking revenge on her family’s murderers but to serve her country.

Yet, out of the school and out of the "safe" confines, all of them had to keep their passions in check and ambitions shelved as they pull the burqa down to conceal their bodies. Out of sight and out of mind.

The scene where the simple solider, Noqreh and the refugee boy had a short conversation was interesting as well. Although the scene allowed the refugee boy to affirm his feelings for Noqreh in an amusing way, the dignified manner in which Noqreh carried herself (almost worthy of a head-of-state) in a situation where she was speaking to an "infidel" and a male so openly was compelling. It was an opportunity for her to break free of the social norms and her faith, and she gladly reveled in it. Also, mirroring the refugee boy who had no intentions of going into politics, the soldier was apolitical in his ambitions and was doing what he was doing because it felt proper and right to do so.

"I am here because of you."

From there, the film turned 180 degrees and headed toward poignancy. The news of Noqreh brother’s death struck and we saw how the old man, Nogreh’s father, dealt with the issue of grief and death. Despite having his daughter-in-law and daughter around him, the old man chose to confide his problems with his horse. When it was obvious that his grandson had died, the old man chose to believe otherwise in front of his daughter-in-law and use religious concepts cover up the facts of death. In a land where death and grief were common, it was very interesting to note how even under these circumstances, the truth of the reality was decided by the men, not the women. Even at the very end, it was the men who could come to terms with death while Noqreh and her sister-in-law had to contend with reciting a poem in dealing with the passing of their loved one.

My favorite scene would be when Noqreh found a space in the Parliament House where she could be free to be who she wanted to be and was hesitant in taking a few steps on her high heel shoes before throwing them aside and freely expressing herself by doing a few hopscotch jumps. That scene might have been draggy and made people wonder why the length, but on hindsight, it showed her hesitance and the tension within her in breaking out from years of oppression and expressing herself.
The Parliament House, in ruins (metaphor for her country), became a place where women like her (the ravaged land), had the space and freedom to pursue their desires in life (hopscotch jumping toward the skies in the background), without any male presence (oppression) or Western intervention (kicking off the high heel shoes). Does that translate into hope of the dawn of a better tomorrow for her and her people?

The saddest scene was at the very end, when their wagon was torched and how Noqreh’s father spoke of his faith when digging a little hole on the ground for the burial of his grandson. I did not know what his exact words were but the way he rationalized death in a matter-of-fact manner showed just what these impoverished people thought of their bleak future.

Other than that, I was intrigued when treated to the sight of the desolated and destroyed Afghan landscape.

Other brief observations:

(a) Noqreh’s search for the name of any female President at the start before dropping the word "female" altogether later. This may mean something.

(b) The ending when the future of Noqreh’s family was unknown (after their wagon was torched) and of her reciting the poem one more time. A closure of sorts?

The rest was death, and death alone
at five in the afternoon.

Just my $0.02.