Overview: A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS explores the complex forces faced by women in Pakistan today, as well as clashing interpretations of women’s rights and family honor, chronicling the dramatic journey of a courageous young woman as she fights for her life, for her dignity and for justice.
In the Punjab region of Pakistan, a young man and woman fall in love and decide to marry. Saba, 18, and Qaiser, 21, have known each other for four years, and Saba’s father is helping plan their wedding. But Saba’s uncle protests the union, saying that Qaiser and his family are of lowly status, and the family ultimately forbids the marriage. Determined to be together, they are married at a local courthouse.
Just hours after the wedding, her father and uncle collect Saba at the home of her new in-laws. Driving her to the riverside, they beat and shoot her, leaving Saba for dead for bringing “dishonor” upon the family. Miraculously, Saba survives, but cannot contact even her mother and sisters because of her act of rebellion.
Expectations: With all the talk of this being an Academy Award nominee and the eventual winner in its category, I dodged all reviews and sneak peeks of this acclaimed documentary as to not influence my take on it. All I knew was the basic outline of plot which was of a Pakistani women surviving an “honor killing” and fighting for her life and rights. So going into the film I expected to be schooled in the “honor killing” practice of the region and the disrespect and hardships women in general face there. The trailer below, had I seen it before watching the documentary, would have set me straight that that was not the focus of the work.
Gut Reaction: We learn of the family, briefly, we learn of the crime and are shocked, but then you think we are going to launch into the whole business of “honor killings” and all the unsolved cases. But we don’t; we stick with Saba because the real angle this story takes is one of “forgiveness.” Saba takes her assailants (remember, that is her father and her uncle) to court, where cameras are not allowed to go, and she offers a statement of forgiveness and so does her father and the case is dropped. It is an interesting twist to the story.
This documentary serves as an example that if I go in unprepared I can be quite surprised by the direction and tone a piece may take. It made it a lot more interesting story. But that is surely not what made it an Academy Award winner. What does make it a winner is the rarity of the whole incident. It is a rarity that the victim survived the attempt on her life and it is equally rare that the director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was able to even capture Saba’s story.
Bonus: The film just received an Oscar in the category of Best Documentary Short, bringing attention to the human rights crisis surrounding honor killings in Pakistan. Stated director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy prior to the Oscar ceremony –
“I am delighted that A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS has been nominated for an Academy Award. Honor killings affect hundreds of women in Pakistan every year, and I hope that the film and its message will catalyze awareness around this crisis and ignite change for women.”
In Conclusion: This is a short but effective documentary that indeed scores one for Human Rights. Saba was brave to take it to court, but in the end there was a price to pay. It was easier and safer to forgive.
Next: From 9:00pm – 10:30pm on Monday, March 14 HBO will debut a trio of documentaries about the deadly disease Ebola. The works are EBOLA: THE DOCTOR’S STORY, BODY TEAM 12 and ORPHANS OF EBOLA. HBOWatch will combine them into one review next time