Friday, October 26, 2012

Movie with Abe: The Black Tulip

The Black Tulip
Directed by Sonia Nassery Cole
Released October 26, 2012

Last year, “A Separation” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, a movie about civil liberties in a religious Islamic society produced by Iran. One year earlier, “The Black Tulip,” from Afghan-American filmmaker Sonia Nassery Cole, was submitted into that same race as the representative film from Afghanistan. While it received far less publicity, “The Black Tulip” is a similar film in many ways, examining the way that one country’s citizens have struggled to flourish in a culture remarkably different from that of the United States. Cole’s drama is a passionate tale of the fight for freedom and perseverance with compelling characters at its center.

“The Black Tulip” sets its story in 2010 in Kabul, with the Taliban out of power but still peripherally active enough to merit the continued presence of international peacekeeping forces. Cole plays Farishta, the determined owner of a restaurant called The Poets Corner, who yearns to recreate the free spirit expressed by her father, who ran a bookstore on the same property before he was murdered for not confirming by Soviet forces decades earlier. Farishta is a forward-thinking modernist, eager to create an open space where all can be welcomed. Her husband, Hadar (Haji Gul Aser), is concerned but supportive, and her sister Belkis (Somajia Razaya) must struggle with the fact that her father-in-law-to-be thinks that a wife’s place is at home, rather than at medical school, to which she has been accepted just before her wedding.

Instead of a subtle metaphor, “The Black Tulip” is a total externalization of the conflict between tradition for the sake of tradition and evolving beyond what might be seen as ancient tropes. The reality of Taliban extremists plotting to disrupt the success of Farishta’s business and assert the supremacy of their beliefs grounds the film in black and white perceptions of oppression and liberty. The story is told respectfully, however, also presenting positive depictions of righteous Muslims whose traditions to not automatically make them villains.

The primary cast members – Cole, Aser, Razaya, and Walid Amini, who plays Belkis’ lovestruck fiancé Akram – deliver strong performances that imbue their characters with depth and history, enhancing each scene with the conveyed memory of the historical events that led up to a particular moment. The film’s music is rich and peace-affirming, and it tackles a complicated situation with careful thought. Taken with films like Iran’s “A Separation” and Germany’s “When We Leave,” this is another powerful entry in a recent wave of films exploring the role of independent women in societies not prepared for such a case.


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