Women in the middle east, especially in a place like Afghanistan, live complex and difficult lives to say the least. How was a short film going to capture that, I did not know.
Salar Pashtoonyar’s Hills and Mountains was a surprise and heart-moving experience, and a film I am glad to have watched as part of TIFF 2022.
Pashtoonyar mixes real-life imagery with a fictional story to create a visual, diary-like experience. The blend of narration overlayed on clips shot in modern-day, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan lets audiences place the narrator into reality, helping us almost imagine her life with society around her.
This is a very important film, in my honest opinion.
Without creating a drama film where you are physically seeing a woman endure the stories she is sharing, this film puts a cinematic veil on the woman (similar to what the culture does to women in real life) but gives her the opportunity to speak her truth. That delivery and connection to current-day society is very powerful.
I also found the visuals of Afghanistan moving. How often do we see visuals of the country that isn’t related to war or conflict? The additional backstory that the narration provides helps us as the audience to get context of where the country once was and sadly where it was taken by outside forces. I feel this is critical to understand for present-day audiences who only recognize Afghanistan as a war-ridden country.
The emotion with which voice performer Fereshta Afshar delivers the dialogue is brilliant, and the words spoken aren’t stories we haven’t heard before; either via the news or through the grapevine. In fact, the film’s story is inspired by a true one, making this even more critically powerful. You could feel the pain and the anger, and the burden of society on the woman’s shoulders. Its was powerful and riveting.
I only have one small critical comment: As someone who can’t speak Dari (Afghan Farsi), reading the subtitles took away from me immersing myself in the visuals. It’s not a big deal, but I would have loved spending more time just seeing Afghan life in more detail.
Thank you Salar for creating a great and powerful film.
Hills and Mountains plays as part of TIFF’s Short Cuts programme at the 47th Toronto International Film Festival; specifically Short Cuts Programme 4. Visit TIFF’s website HERE for all the details on screenings.
Cover Photo: Still from Hills and Mountains | Courtesy of TIFF.