Human Rights Film Festival: Love Crimes of Kabul
The subject of women in prison has long been a staple of TV and film, from Prisoner Cell Block H to Bad Girls. However, Love Crimes of Kabul is a world away from these comic-like depictions, as the documentary strips away the fiction to reveal the true cases of inmates incarcerated at Badam Bagh women’s prison in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Women are in here for crimes such as murder and suicide bombing. But the other half are locked up for ‘moral crimes’. Meet Kareema, who is awaiting trial for having pre-marital sex with her fiancé Firuz. If convicted, both could be sent down for 15 years.
And then there’s Aleema, who ran away from her family and stayed with Zia Jaan, a woman who wants Aleema to marry her son. They are looking at a possible 20 years in jail. Last but not least, there’s little Sabereh, who seems so innocent; she looks about 12 years old. She’s been charged with having sex with her neighbour.
Director and producer Tanaz Eshaghian turns her attention to the plight of these women, focusing on the oppressive Afghani regime. It seems to me that there’s so much repression of sex and sexuality here, that everyone’s at it. The biggest crimes these women have committed is being caught, or having the misfortune of living next to vindictive neighbours, who report them to the police.
Eshaghian has caught the mood of the women prisoners and their domestic lives vividly. There’s a sense of community in which they share food, gossip, tease each other and laugh at bad poetry written by a lovesick woman to her boyfriend. It’s also interesting to find out about the inmates’ sense of morality and the law. A woman who killed her husband (for having sex with others including a seven-year old girl), is adamant that what she did was a good thing and feels no guilt. However, she thinks that having sex before marriage is wrong because it breaks the law of Islam.
And yet, a part of me was strangely unmoved by Love Crimes of Kabul. I wanted to feel more outrage and shock. It’s not enough just to document and film these women. There needs to be different points of view, with more emotion. There’s a malaise pervading the film as everyone speaks in an expressionless manner, as if to say: “this is the law and there’s nothing we can do about it.” Eshaghian doesn’t go far enough in challenging the system or drawing out the deeper feelings of her subjects.
Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to see a film about Afghanistan which isn’t part of a news reel about the latest bombings and Taliban atrocities. It brings us closer to these women and reminds us that they can laugh at the same things we do as well as sharing common causes of distress – from irritating in-laws, to boredom about everyday life.
Watch the trailer for Love Crimes of Kabul here