Post-Taliban Kabul is seen through the eyes of a Czech bride in this new film from acclaimed animator Michaela Pavlátová, who was nominated for an Oscar 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 bloody story.
When Herra meets Nazir during their university studies in the Czech Republic, it’s love at first sight. Their relationship takes Herra to Afghanistan where the couple marry and live with Nazir’s family. The culture shock is rapid: Herra struggles to adjust to her life at home and the harassment she experiences 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 amazed 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 being nothing more than stereotypes. He is also unsure of his tone; a scene of domestic violence, for example, is brought together in a series of light-hearted daily vignettes, as if violence were just an eccentric 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 makes up the film’s title.
The animation is enjoyable enough, but I found myself yearning for something like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which manages to critique oppressive cultural practices without flattening its characters into political talking points.