Post-Taliban Kabul is seen through the eyes of a Czech bride in this new film from acclaimed animation director Michaela Pavlátová, who was Oscar nominated in 1993 for her short film Words Words Words. Adapted from a novel by war journalist Petra Procházková, the Golden Globe-nominated film boasts striking visuals, but lacks the kind of emotional authenticity that would elevate it beyond a sob story.
When Herra meets Nazir during their university days in the Czech Republic, it is love at first sight. Their relationship leads Herra to Afghanistan where the pair marry and live with Nazir’s family. The culture shock comes swift: Herra has a difficult time adjusting to her stay-at-home existence and the harassment that she endures as a western woman in Kabul. While Nazir’s grandfather is liberal and understanding, his brother-in-law Kaiz physically abuses his wife, and forces his daughter to marry against her will. When the couple begin working at an American base, Herra is stunned to see Nazir succumb to the influence of traditional patriarchal values.
While My Sunny Maad attempts to maintain a delicate balance in its portrayal of Afghan society, the film offers so little insight into the interiority of its characters that they end up as little more than stereotypes. It is also unsure of its tone; a scene of domestic violence, for example, is lumped into a series of lighthearted daily vignettes, as if abuse is merely a quirky fact of life in Kabul. Even Maad, a homeless boy with special needs who is adopted by Herra and Nazir, feels like an afterthought, even though his name forms the film’s title.
The animation is pleasant enough, but I found myself longing for something like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which succeeds in being critical of oppressive cultural practices without flattening its characters into political talking points.
• My Sunny Maad is released on 29 September on BFI Player.