Try to visualise being the only foreign attorney working in Afghanistan in 2013, just as front-page politicians once again discuss the withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn region. Hard to picture? Indeed, that is why Motley’s Law is an intense and provocative documentary, following American lawyer Kimberley Motley in her everyday professional life in Afghan courts. Catching glimpses of the streets of Kabul, the Danish production revolves tightly around Kim and her stubborn quest to fix legal cases, constantly confronting deep-rooted corruption.
An unsentimental picture of contemporary Afghanistan, Motley’s light-hearted jokes and a somewhat charming recklessness, easily mistaken for heroism, buoy up spirits as the crew is surrounded by terrorist attacks at a dime a dozen. The tangible tension Kim tries to downplay ultimately gets too close: when the television reporter’s voice comments on your own afternoon instead of counting anonymous victims, you may want to reconsider priorities.
An extremely hard-working and (financially) ambitious attorney exercising her expertise overseas, Motley is driven by professional rather than humanitarian aspirations – the thought of her family in the US always present, yet as remote as the long-distance calls the film regularly eavesdrops on. Upon her temporary return to North Carolina, problematic – and thus thought-provoking – parallels between the two countries set off a few alarms about strident double standards. The war is far away from America and it must stay that way in order for her to keep helping, and even saving, Afghans.
As pleasant as it is to witness a non-military documentary about Afghanistan, the inclusion of the debate around the country’s future and clips of Obama’s statements risk bringing up questions that the experience of a single, however exemplary, lawyer cannot answer. Far from the political analysis needed to understand the precarious situation, Motley’s Law is a documentary about one courageous attorney, with her professional reasons and strong work ethic, but not the solution to a decade-long conflict. Motley refuses heroism and the film doesn’t spruce her up with it either – her understanding of many aspects of Afghan justice makes her a model lawyer, not a member of the Justice League comic-books. She’s working very hard, and “superhero” is not a real job.
Motley’s Law is released in selected cinemas on 1st April 2016.
Watch the trailer for Motley’s Law here: