Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Review: He Named Me Malala

World of Blackout Film Review

He Named Me Malala Poster

He Named Me Malala
Cert: PG / 87 mins / Dir. Davis Guggenheim / Trailer
WoB Rating: 6/7

I always find it problematic to review documentaries. They’re primarily about informing the viewer rather than entertaining them, and that’s a far less subjective bar to set. If an action movie excites one person but not another, if a horror movie scares you but not your buddy, or if you sat through Pixels stony-faced, that’s down to the viewer’s individual tastes and preferences; but you’d have a pretty hard time criticising a documentary for being uninformative if you were the only one in the room who didn’t understand what it was about. Now obviously, there’s still the criteria of the film's technique to be judged, but I don’t really watch enough of them to have a firm handle to grasp, there (crappy action, horror and comedy films on the other hand, I’m more than happy to tear a strip off). And all of this is why most of my documentary reviews begin with me saying that I find it problematic to review documentaries. Plus ça change…

Anyhow, Davis Guggenheim’s film is an intimate (and yes, informative) portrait of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot at age 15 in a Taliban attack after daring to suggest publicly that boys and girls should be educated equally. The gunshot wound to Malala’s head didn’t instantly kill her, and after extensive surgery and an intensive recovery period (which still isn’t over and which leaves damage that can’t be repaired), she’s become a global ambassador for feminism.

Opening with news footage recorded at the time of the shooting, the film has two strands running parallel to each other; stories and recollections of Malala’s family and her childhood in Pakistan, covering the rise of Taliban-rule in Swat Valley, and then Malala’s recovery in England, her campaign-work and the influence she’s had (and continues to have) with global leaders in ensuring better opportunities for the world’s children.

The former is told almost exclusively through interviews with Malala and her immediate (and fantastically supportive) family, and accompanied with fluidly animated sequences which expand the meaning of the monologues without simplifying them. The more recent narrative consists of on-camera interviews, on-location filming and news/archival footage, although again the majority of the talking-head sections are from the family themselves. The documentary has no narration, but with the visual storytelling of the animated sections and the documented nature of the recovery, it really doesn’t need any.

He Named Me Malala isn’t especially cinematic (documentaries rarely are), although any release-pattern which increases the reach of the film is all for the better. It won’t be long before this hits TV, and I foresee it being used (and very appropriately) in as an educational tool for years to come.

My only slight gripe is that the animation - as both technically and artistically outstanding as it is - threatens to top the film with a dusting of saccharine which is thoroughly unnecessary. Malala’s story is powerful enough already without orchestrated mood-lighting telling the audience what to think. But at its core, the animation reflects that this is a very personal film, far more than just a collection of newsreel footage and interviews.

Self-effacing, smart, wise and fiendishly funny, the subject of Guggenheim’s film humbles the audience without patronising them at all. But what’s truly jaw-dropping isn’t that Malala survived the attack which was intended to silence her, and not even the campaigning work she tirelessly combines with her own ongoing education; it’s the complete absence of bitterness or regret that Malala feels over what happened to her, the responsibility she lays not at the feet of the individuals who changed her life forever, but at the philosophy which allowed it - a philosophy which needs to be educated, not outlawed. She’s a far better person than most of us will ever be, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

A message of hope for the future rather than condemnation of the past; Malala’s already changed the world and she’s not out of her teens, yet. The least you can do is watch this film and be amazed at her doing it…

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
Out of principal, yes; out of practicality, it should be on the small screen before very long.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
It won't be something you'll watch repeatedly, but it doesn't have to be; once will be enough for the film's message.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Maybe a little, but if you can adequately explain why it isn't as good as I think it is, I won't hold that against you.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No, but in all fairness I didn't expect one.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Director/Producer Davis Guggenheim directed three episodes of NYPD Blue in the mid-nineties, all of which starred Jimmy 'Bail Organa' Smits.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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