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Films Explore Gender Relations in Traditional Societies

  • Penelope Poulou

Two new independent films, one by Afghan director Atiq Rahimi, and another by the first female Saudi filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour, explore gender relations in two traditional societies.

Rahimi’s film unravels in an imagined country based on war-torn Afghanistan. The other takes place in Saudi Arabia. Although very different in style and treatment, both films zoom in on a woman's world and perceptions in gender segregated societies.

A young woman in Atiq Rahimi's film The Patience Stone pours out her heart to her comatose husband about years of emotional neglect and abuse.

The wife finds solace in her unresponsive husband. He becomes her Patience Stone, a legendary stone that, according to tradition, holds secrets and provides relief.

Afghan activist Hossai Wardak says Rahimi paints an accurate picture of the typical Afghan loveless marriage and family relations in male-dominated societies like Afghanistan.

“Marriage tends to be a relation where it’s more of being able to produce babies and expand families and to have somebody to take care of you," said Wardak.

She says the absence of communication in many arranged marriages leads to mutual unhappiness, domestic violence and violence at large.

Why are there wars? Why do we end up with violence?

"It’s because there is no human compassion,” she said.

In her Saudi film, Wadjda, Haifaa al-Mansour also exposes gender taboos.

The film centers on 10-year-old Wadjda, who dreams of buying a bicycle despite society's disapproval. The film follows her as she plans to purchase the bike while her mother fears losing her husband to a second wife because she is unable to produce a son.

As the first female filmmaker in her country, al-Mansour paves the way for other Saudi women in film.

"Religious leaders are re-examining, re-visiting their literature and they are becoming more tolerant and more accepting of women, for example, working in a mixed environment," al-Mansour said. "So there is change in Saudi and I think there is a striking difference between Saudi Arabia and a place like Pakistan or Afghanistan."

Saudi Arabia has selected Wadjda as its first ever entry for the foreign language Oscar.