PANJ E ASR (AT 5 O'CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON)
Iran, 2003, 106 minutes, Colour.
Aghelah Rezaie, Abdolgani Yousefrazi, Razi Mohebi, Marzih Amiri.
Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf.
At Five in the Afternoon is the work of Samira Makhmalbaf. She had previously made The Apple, Blackboards and a section of The Eleventh of September, 2001. Very young, she followed in the footsteps of her director father. She also showed interest in the issues of education (Blackboards and 2001) as well as women. After the end of the war in Afghanistan, she took a group of film-makers into Khabul in order to recreate a film about women's issues in the city after the Taliban. The film focuses on a young woman who goes with her father to a religious school but leaves in order to go to a secular school where they discuss political issues and where she imagines that she could be the President of Afghanistan. The film focuses on her political awakening, her friendships, campaign, the encounter with a French occupying soldier? The film also focuses on the family, the migrants who squat and take possession of what the inhabitants had? The old man is also severe and not wanting to break with tradition, which she does. Finally, the group take to the road and go to a future which is uncertain and not the one that the young woman had hoped for.
Samira Makhmalbaf won the Cannes Jury Award and the Ecumenical Award at Cannes in 2003. The film meanders at many times and is not as tightly constructed as her previous films. However, it is an exploratory film of women's issues in Islam, women emerging from the dominance of the Taliban - and a glimpse of where Afghanistan was going at the beginning of the 21st century.
Her sister Hana made a 73-minute documentary about the making of At Five in the Afternoon. It was called Joy of Madness. The focus of the film is on the casting and the efforts of Samira Makhmalbaf to find the non-professional performers she wanted for the film. The film is very interesting in its initial focus on a young woman who speaks very volubly and with emphasis on a more Taliban interpretation on the role of women and their nature as being secondary to men. The second part of the film concentrates on the approach to an old Mullah who wants to be photographed and agrees to go in the film and then backs out, wondering what people will think of him and his position. He is the man who was to play the old father in the film. The third part of the film is the approach to a schoolteacher and trying to persuade her to take the role of the central young woman. She is agreeable but again feels hampered because of the dominance of men, especially with her impending marriage and the approval of her fiance. The film is very Middle Eastern in the fact that everybody uses words rather than writing, shouts, is insistent on principle, brings religious motivation and all are very strong in bargaining rather than coming to immediate contracts. The film presents Samira Makhmalbaf as very intense, lacking in humour, very forceful in trying to get what she wanted. It is an insightful background to the feature film.
1. The career of Samira Makhmalbaf - her films, her age, making this film at the age of twenty-two? Her perspective on Iran? Afghanistan? Islam? The role of women in Islam, in Afghan society, especially after the Taliban rule?
2. The Afghan locations, the desert beauty, the aftermath of the war, the buildings in ruins, the refugees and shelter, cars, carriages and donkeys, the life in the city? The musical score? The poetry - especially the Spanish poem about the death of the bull and the title of the film, its reference to the experience of Afghanistan after the war?
3. The background references to the bombing of Afghanistan, the rule of the Taliban and its tightness, the reaction against it, the Americans coming in, the bombed buildings, the streams of refugees, the lack of water and other sustenance, the planes flying overhead, the helicopters, the French and the peacekeeping force, the old man wanting to go to see the Mullah in Kandahar, his comments about not handing over Osama bin Laden because he was a guest in the country, not handing him over to the infidels, the old man telling him that he was too late and that the situation had changed?
4. The details of life in the city, the hardships, the last half hour and the audience sharing the hardships of the family, no place to go, hopes dashed, the death of the child, the lack of water, burning the cart for heat, the donkey dying, the old man they met in the middle of the desert?
5. The focus on Nogreh? Seeing her in the carriage with her father, the burquah, her going to the scripture lesson with the women, her going out, changing her shoes, the bright umbrella, lifting the veil? The contrast with the school, the principal and the Ministry of Education, the ambitions for the education of women? The girls being asked about their future careers, teachers, engineers, doctors - and President of Afghanistan? The three girls standing, their claims as candidates, their speeches? Mena and her experiences, deaths, serious-minded, her glasses, her being killed, the memorial service and the students' grief? Nogreh and her experience of wanting to be president?
6. The character of Nogreh, her age, relationship with her strict father, with her sister and the dying child? Caring for them, bringing the refugees in for shelter, the accusations about stealing chickens? Her encounter with the poet, their discussions, his getting the speech for her, discussions about Benazir Bhutto and women presidents? Her taking the presidency seriously, wanting to study speeches, asking questions (especially of the French peacekeeper) of how presidents made speeches, won over voters? The importance of the photo sequence, the poet putting her photo on the columns? Her anger at the photographer and his narrow attitudes? The poet giving her the Spanish poem, her taking it into the desert with the photo, reading it? Her hopes, her shyness, her knowing that she should do something, but the reality of the family, having to move into other ruins, not having the opportunities for education, her strict father and his quoting the Koran? Going into the desert and the long trek at the end - to where?
7. The quotations from the Koran about women, the men and their turning away, asking God to forgive them? The strictness of the quotations? The contrast with the ambitions of the women, at school, the uniforms, the veils, the shoes, the coloured umbrellas? The ambitions?
8. The men, the very strict father, quoting the Koran, saying corruption had overtaken Kabul? The refugees, the man playing the music and wanting to drive out the old man? The young men, the poet, being in Pakistan, not knowing politics, yet getting the speech for Nogreh, his courting of her, the photos, the farewell?
9. The mother, the child dying, her bewilderment, looking for her husband? The father getting news of the husband and the accident, the mine? His not wanting to tell his daughter the truth?
10. The trek out into the desert, each with their own life, the seeming hopelessness?
11. The feminist tone of the film - and the indication of the critique within Islam of the text, the behaviour of men, women as seen or unseen, not heard, chattels? The impetus for social and religious change?