Afghan film maker Sahra Mani hadn’t intended to make a documentary soon after the Taliban took control of the country in 2021…
By Suman Bhuchar
SCREENED out of competition as one of Cannes Special Screenings, this 90-minute film follows the story of Afghan women who started protesting against the Taliban when they arrived in Kabul in August 15, 2021.
The story goes that Sahra Mani was attending a film festival outside Afghanistan when it was taken over by Taliban and she couldn’t return.
Meanwhile in Hollywood actor Jennifer Lawrence and her producer, Justine Ciarrocchi were also wondering how to react to unfolding world events.
To cut a long story short, they called Mani who initially refused as she was already getting footage from women inside Afghanistan and was compiling a video responding in real time on how daily life was changing rapidly for women.
In the end, however, both came together, and ‘Bread and Roses’ is a powerful and effecting portrayal about the impact of the Taliban take over and what happened to women’s rights and livelihoods in the aftermath.
And Lawrence, Mani and protagonist Zahra Mohammadi were all in attendance in Cannes at a screening at the Agnes Varda Theatre (where www.asianculturevulture.com saw the film) and they made their heartfelt plea to the audience, “please don’t forget Afghan women”. Thierry Frémaux, Cannes Film Festival director (and known formally as the General Delegate), also spoke, as did Lawrence too.
The film begins with the engagement party of Zahra to Omid where men and women are in separate rooms.
Meanwhile in the street scenes outside life is vibrant and the children ride a small Ferris wheel when suddenly it’s August 15 and the Taliban March into Kabul.
Mohammadi runs her own clinic as a dentist and she cleans it herself and sees male and female patients and she is one of the key protagonists whose lives we are able to follow in detail during the course of the film.
The others are a woman activist (Faranoom) and her friend as well as the government servant (Shanfeh) who had to stop working when the Afghan flag was lowered in her office and the black and white standard of the new rulers was put up.
Ironically, she says her only joy is now teaching her mother to read. She’s afraid to protest as she doesn’t want to upset her mother.
Faranoom has to eventually leave for refuge in Pakistan where they wait at a safe house for a long time.
Zahra’s story has a lot of air time and we see her continuing to work till eventually she is forced to close her clinic and is imprisoned and beaten, finally forcing her to come to a difficult decision to leave.
Intercut within these are video footage of street protests and resistance with women asking for “Work, Bread, Education”, and about how riding alone in a taxi is illegal and how Taliban soldiers break into the home of two sisters, Tamana and Parvana and take them away.
Scored to a soundscape of popular songs of heartbreak and separation, this film is a compelling watch followed by a plea to nations verbally articulated, requesting them not to give legitimacy to such a regime.
Produced by Excellent Cadaver (Lawrence and Ciarrocchi’s production company), along with Mani’s company, Afghan Doc Film House and The Eyan Foundation with Farhad Khosravi.
The sound is by Iranian composer, Masoud Sekhawat Doust
‘Bread and Roses’ screened as a world premiere on Monday (May 22) at the Cannes Film Festival.