A compelling but flawed documentary
In Her Hands is an interesting and thought provoking documentary, one as eye-opening as it is heartbreaking. Instead of a deep dive into the volatile politics around Afghanistan and the war that eventually led to the US retreating and letting the Taliban choke out Kabul, the story told is much more personal and gut-wrenching.
The film follows Zafira Ghafari, a woman who became one of Afghanistan’s first female mayors and the youngest to hold her position. Of course, this challenges the conventional laws and ideals around female roles that have been customary in Afghanistan for many years, and it’s something that ruffles a lot of feathers – including the Taliban.
Despite receiving death threats, Zafira remains steadfast in her approach to try and inspire young girls and passionate Afghan citizens to push for more equality, even in the face of extreme prejudices and danger.
The documentary flits back and forth between Zafira’s struggles to be heard, and shooting from the perspective of a commanding officer for the Taliban in order to gain a balanced viewpoint. Of course, the latter have their own ideas around what constitutes as a just and righteous society. As one may expect, it’s not an easy watch.
In fact, the final 30 minutes are incredibly tense, with everything prior to that building up to the Fall of Kabul, which is shot with a really nail-biting and shockingly raw atmosphere.
In Her Hands certainly doesn’t shy away from that shock either, and there are some really difficult moments in this. Seeing a school full of hurt girls at the hands of the Taliban is one such example, but there are other instances that are more shocking but I won’t spoil that in this review.
Unfortunately, In Her Hands does shy away from being a more thorough examination of Zafira as a character. We’re told that she’s steadfast and see her shrugging off death threats from the Taliban for years, which feels at odds with Zafira hightailing it out of Afghanistan on the night the US leave. I do appreciate that it wasn’t safe for her anymore, but seeing her leave the very people she’s supposed to be protecting felt like a bit of a slight.
There’s also a fallout between her and one of her close confidants who worked with her but it’s only really touched on, with executive producers Hillary and Chelsea Clinton seemingly unwilling to even think about painting Zafira in a negative light.
Beyond those quibbles though, In Her Hands is a compelling documentary, one that sheds light on a difficult period of history in the Middle East and doesn’t come away with any easy answers. There’s a lot of harrowing footage and the uneasy ending only adds to that. It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly armed with a few big flaws, but it’s a solid watch all the same.
Verdict - 6.5/10