Misogynistic barbarity of Taliban rule illustrated

March 2, 2020
Mohsen and Zunaira outside the ruins of their favourite bookshop in The Swallows of Kabul
Mohsen and Zunaira outside the ruins of their favourite bookshop in The Swallows of Kabul

The Swallows of Kabul (Les hirondelles de Kaboul)
Directed by Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobé Mévellec
In French with English subtitles
Showing nationally as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival

This film, made by two women, is an animated adaptation of the novel of the same name by Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra. It deals with life in Taliban-occupied Kabul.

The bleakness of the subject matter is softened by the beautiful strokes and pastel colours of the watercolour animation.

The plot focuses on two couples, Taliban prison guard Atiq and his cancer-stricken wife Musarrat, and the younger, former university historian Mohsen and his artist wife Zunaira. None are happy under Taliban rule.

Atiq is disillusioned and confused, wearily limping from a war wound, while Mohsen and Zunaira pine for the personal and professional freedom they enjoyed before the war. Mussarat suffers doubly from being sick and a woman.

The Kabul they inhabit is a wasteland, with violent Taliban religious police patrolling the streets to ensure women and men do not converse in public. The Taliban seek every opportunity to oppress and denigrate women. The horror of public executions is ever present.

The film makes no attempt to explain the history behind the degeneration it shows. In reality the secular, progressive society Mohsen and Zunaira recall was that of the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party of Afghanistan, against which the United States unleashed jihad.

The US-backed jihadi groups were gangsters, who fell on each other’s throats when they took Kabul. They established fortresses in different suburbs and fought it out with heavy weaponry. That is the origin of the destruction illustrated here.

The Taliban arose in reaction to the warlords’ wantonness.  At first, they won support because they brought order to the chaos while the US was indifferent to what was going on.

But once in power the Taliban unleashed theocratic madness and, ultimately, through their alliance with al-Qaeda, brought further destruction to Afghanistan.

At its heart, this film is a love story, of human emotion sprouting through the rubble. But everything in Taliban Kabul is blasted out of shape and love finds expression in desperate ways.

The Swallows of Kabul is deeply affecting and graphically brings home the misogynistic barbarity of Taliban rule.

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