IDFA 2016, Prison Sisters

O.
M.
G.
I only went to see this because it was continually at the top of the Public’s Prize rankings. I’m so glad I did, although it was completely and utterly heartbreaking.
The movie begins by showing a women’s prison in Afghanistan. The women are washing clothes in a courtyard and we see them saying goodbye to one of their own, who walks out the gate a ‘free’ woman. She has been a subject in a film about women’s jails in Afghanistan, made by an Afghani/Swedish director, and after her release she is invited to Stockholm for the premiere of the film. While there, she extends her stay of 10 days in order to request asylum, as she fears for her life if she returns to her homeland. At 17, she ran away from home with her boyfriend, was imprisoned for this crime and has therefore brought shame upon her family, who she fears will kill her if she returns.
Sara stays for an unspecified time with the filmmaker and his wife, Afghani refugees in Stockholm, although we never hear their story. While we watch her wait, we see her deal with setbacks (a pregnancy by her husband who she married after her release and before her immigration), trying to learn the language, figuring out how life works in a country where women have as much value as men. We watch her on the phone with her husband, who resents her being in school and not wearing the hijab, claiming that she has become the man of the family and that there is no room for him. We cannot understand why she conti ues to phone him, as it is extremely clear that she needs to move on and embrace her independence.
The title of the film comes from a secondary story involving a friend of Sara’s from prison. Her friend was young, headstrong, independent and aggressive. Sara and the filmmaker try to hint her down after her release from prison. After many false alarms and red herrings, he finally finds her in Kabul and we see a very emotional skype call between the two friends, in which the girl admits to turning to prostitution after her release as the only way she could survive. We feel, ‘There but for the grace of god’ and feel relief that Sara has been spared this fate. We then learn that shortly after this call, the friend changed her number and cut off all contact.
We watch with joy as Sara is finally informed of her residence permit coming through and the official beginning of her new life. She giggles as she imagines calling Navid and of welcoming him to join her. But as she prepares to go meet him at the airport, she becomes pensive and says, ‘I don’t have a good feeling about this. He’s not going to fit in here.’ As we see them joyfully greet each other, we pray she’s wrong but as we see the silence that falls between them, we feel sure this the end for their story. As the screen goes black and the credits roll, the ominous paragraphs roll over the screen: ‘Two weeks after Navid’s arrival, Sara moved in with him and cut off all contact with the filmmakers. He started school but she quit it. She is now wearing the burqa again and is expecting their first child.’ Completely heartbreaking. Oh please, please, please, Sara, leave him and make your own life!’
9/10

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