Winterthur review: Three Songs For Benazir (2021)

Kurzfilmtage Winterthur
International Competition

Courtesy of Winterthur

“We will either be bombed by the foreigners, or killed by the Taliban” the teenage groom Shaista says at the beginning of the film to his equally young wife Benazir, and those words will stick to you like the glue. What kind of song does Shaista have for Benazir now, post-Taliban insurgency and their rise to power in Afghanistan? Is he still around and if so, how can he now express his affection to the woman he loves in a country that had all music banned?

Although unaware of the destiny they will meet soon enough, the newly weds understand the place they are from and the instability of the whole situation. Benazir and Shaista live in a a Kabul displacement camp along with many other families who escaped the Taliban. Just like their families and friends, they have to find a way to put the food on the table, and this isn’t that easy. There is always a possibility of working on the poppy fields, but Shaista knows better than that, and he is resisting that option for a very long time.

Shaista and Benazir know what hunger is. If they are lucky, there will be okra cooking in the pot, but on normal days – optimism and love are the only things that feed their bellies.

The filmmaking couple Gulistan Mirzaei and Elizabeth Mirzaei has filmed the spouses for five years in the atmosphere of a suspense movie setting. There is a constant sense of danger hovering over the displacement camp and its inhabitants, and even though there is no clear hint at when what is happening, the shift in mood is palpable. When they are not watched from the air by the ‘foreigners’, the men are approached to work on the opium fields which might be a job that guarantees a secure income, but involves being months away from the family and very close to the temptation of having the taste of the drug. We are maybe not aware of the time frame, but we can sense the drama coming the couple’s way.

The camera work is un-interventional, silent and attentive, and it is less of a fly-on-the-wall than the dirt-hits-the-fan feeling we are witnessing as the film progresses. Shaista wants to join the army, and we are not sure if that comes from his inner urge to find a secure income without having to compromise, a wish to get some form of education, or to prevent the worst case scenario to happen – the return of the Taliban. But as with everything else, he needs the official approval by his keen: father and elder brothers who don’t trust his ability to do anything right because he is, just like them, an uneducated man who can be easily tricked and humiliated.

Three Songs for Benazir premiered at Full Frame, where it won the Jury Award for Best Short. The film also won jury awards at Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Odense Film Festival, Middle East Now, and it bagged the Audience Award at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival among other. We watched it at Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, where it screened in the imternational competition.

Three Songs For Benazir can easily be called one of the most powerfull films about the fragile life of people displaced due to armed conflicts.

Country: Afghanistan
Language: Pashtu, Dari
Year: 2021
Runtime: 23′
Directed and produced by: Elizabeth Mirzaei & Gulistan Mirzaei
Cinematography: Elizabeth Mirzaei
Edited by: Melanie Annan, Christoph Wermke
Associate Producers: Jamil Rezaei, Homayoun Shamaal
Composer: Qais Essar
Sound Recordist: Gulistan Mirzaei
Sound Design: Stephen C. Davies, Bill Jackson
Additional Camera: Abdulaziz Safdari
Colourist: Brian Hutchings