Afia Nathaniel’s feature directorial debut, “Dukhtar,” is remarkable, and not just because her emotionally resonant thriller was shot on location in the disputed territory between India and Pakistan, by an all-male crew navigating political unrest.
“Dukhtar” grabs you from the outset and never lets go, taking you on a ride through Pakistan as a mother, Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz), risks everything to save her young daughter Zainab (Saleha Aref) from an arranged marriage to a much older tribal leader.
Seizing a moment, mother and daughter set out on foot, alone, incurring the bloodthirsty ire of her husband and other tribal leaders. They find some protection from a truck driver, Sohail (Mohib Mirza), himself a former warrior and a widower.
The location shooting pays off, as the stark and sweeping vistas of the Pakistani landscape offer a look at the beauty of this country that audiences don’t often get to see, the vibrant colors of the truck and Allah Rakhi’s scarves popping against the mountainous roads.
“Dukhtar” means daughter in Urdu, and ultimately, this is a story about the ineffable bond between mother and daughter. A dedication at the end reads, “For my Mother, for my motherland.”
Nathaniel, a native of Pakistan, has delivered a stunning, emotive work that takes to task oppressive patriarchy. It’s a gorgeous, suspenseful cinematic achievement.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.