Geographically the Central Asian nation of Afghanistan is partitioned between luscious valleys, snowy mountains and grand desert landscapes. Similarly
diverse are the ethnic groups that make up its society, a society with a well-known warring past. Today, these animosities and rivalries are still present, but the real issue that concerns the inhabitants of the country is the way in which the world keeps moving forward in a rapid race towards
modernity while they, due to the cultural and economical isolation during the Taliban’s years, exist in an outdated system. The never-ending battle between
tradition and change is clearly more vivid now, and multi-talented Barmak Akram (writer, director, producer, cinematographer, and editor of the film) appears to be saying so in his naturalistic and surprisingly revelatory film Wajma: An Afghan Love Story that begins as a quirky romantic comedy but then quickly transforms into a high-stakes drama.
Advising the viewer that the events depicted are based upon several true stories, which is not hard to believe, the film first showcases a side of modern Afghanistan
rarely seen on screen. Middle class suburbs, cafés filled with people using their computers, and wedding parties that could easily be compared to those
taking place miles away in a Western country. Mustafa (Mustafa Abdulsatar), dressed with the latest fashions from abroad nothing short of a hipster, is a waiter at one of these
upscale restaurants in the heart of Kabul. He has just returned from Iran where he lived during the war and has his eyes set on attractive Wajma (Wajma Bahar), the
daughter of a family acquaintance. On her own merit, Wajma is also a reflection of the surging cultural transformation that has occurred after the American
military intervention. Unfathomable for a woman just over a decade ago, she is allowed to pursue a career and has just been accepted into the law program
at the national university.
As it would happen in any given indie feature about love made in the U.S, their relationship begins with flirtatious banter and is followed by the assiduous courtship from
Mustafa who even plays the guitar for her when she sneaks into his apartment hiding from the nosy neighbors. Still, as the title cleverly states, this is a
love story governed by a distinctive set of rules that are particular to the Afghan way of living. What started as a playful and tender affair becomes a
nightmarish ordeal for the couple after they commit the ultimate offense — that is, premarital sex. Pregnant and dishonored, Wajma knows her life has no
purpose under the established parameters of conduct unless Mustafa marries her to conceal their crime, a proposal that he refuses doubting his evident
fatherhood and her virginity before him.
What ensues is a heavy cross to bear for Wajma, since abortion is seen as an abhorrently illegal act in her country, and her father (Haji Gul Aser), who works finding and
dismantling mines, would much rather see her dead than living with the stigma her mistake has imposed on the family. Told with a superbly unpretentious and
documentary-like style Akram’s film is a journey through the current state of this complicated society. Ironically, one contemporary element that is
prominent in the story is the use of cell phones, and they are utilized as tools to uphold the intricate religious conventions by which individuals, and
specifically women, must abide.
Led by Wajma Bahar’s disarming performance as a girl who faces an agonizing fate after naively falling for a man who did not calculate the consequences that
their relationship could have in her life, and within the context of the world they live in, Wajma: An Afghan Love Story is a compelling small gem. Blending the
opposing sides of what it means to be a woman enjoying newly found freedom in present-day Afghanistan and the power of the irrevocable mandates that still
prevail as supreme law, director Barmak Akram has delivered an innovative vision of the evolving nature which his country tries to adapt to the future
at the same time that it remains grounded on its past, for better or worse.