The story of one determined teenager in Iran whose actions will strike many as inspirational.



Sonita Alizadeh, the subject of this documentary by Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, is an Afghan who for some years has lived in Tehran with her sister. During this time she has developed ambitions to be a singer -something denied to women in Afghanistan - and, furthermore, the lure of pop music as such has yielded to the desire to become a rapper able to comment in her music on issues of social justice.


Iran may be less restrictive to her dreams than Afghanistan would be, but two things stand in Sonita's way. First, there are financial problems relevant not only to the cost of making a recording but crucial in a more basic way when it comes to the need for accommodation. Secondly, when Sonita's mother arrives from Afghanistan it is apparent that she and the family have their own plans for Sonita's future. Although the mother had herself suffered through being a child bride, she continues to approve this Afghan tradition and sees the money that would come from marrying off Sonita as a way of providing funds for use as a dowry that would enable one of the girl's brothers to marry.


The injustice of this system will become the subject of one of Sonita's songs when she pursues her musical ambitions and, in endorsing her views, this film very clearly portrays her family as one ruled to an exceptional extent by the need for money. In effect, social comment is here blended with the story of one teenage girl's pursuit of a career in music, the kind of journey depicted in many another film, albeit that here the constraints placed on females in this part of the world add to the heroism of her efforts.


Sonita won prizes at the Sundance Film Festival and Sonita herself comes across sympathetically. If I was not drawn in emotionally to the extent that I expected, it may be due to the fact that the director shoots Sonita in a style that would be at home in a film made with actors. The sense of this being every inch a movie distracted me somewhat and, when cash is needed to keep mother and her plans at bay for a further six months, one feels that Ghaem Maghami, who has been treating Sonita like a lead actress, should be paying up on her behalf (in the event she does so, but only rather late in the day). But qualms of this kind and also over the film's concentration on this single individual story in preference to a broader viewpoint may be personal to me. Other viewers may well find Sonita's history a perfect way to provide a central focus in a film that is certainly not blind to the broader social issues on which it touches.




Featuring  Sonita Alizadeh.


Dir Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, Pro Gerd Haag, Ph Behrouz Badrouj, Ali Mohammad Ghasemi and Mohammad Haddadi, Ed Rune Schweitzer, Music Moritz Denis.

TAG/TRAUM/Intermezzo Films/NDR/RTS Télévision Suisse-New Wave Films.
90 mins. Iran/Germany/Switzerland/The Netherlands/USA/Denmark. 2015. Rel: 21 October 2016. Cert. PG.