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Friday, June 14, 2013

SALMA Review - Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2013

Salma in Salma
Courtesy of Women Make Movies

2013, 90 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Salma is the new documentary from director Kim Longinotto about an Indian woman who becomes a famous poet while being locked in a house for 25 years after she hit puberty.  Salma, the film’s subject, is one of the most extraordinary women whose story is unfortunately not given the best film treatment.  While her story is indeed told and there is plenty to like about this documentary, it is not extraordinary like the woman it portrays.

Salma’s story is tragic and Longinotto does not sugarcoat anything.  What she does is simply lay down the facts and show Salma speaking about her past.  The much of the information presented is really disturbing and fascinating.  This documentary is a call for women’s rights in India at a time when they are being violated.  Longinotto does very little, though, beyond laying down the facts.  It does nothing unexpected with its presentation and is told so plainly that it is hard to stay completely engaged with this film.  The best documentaries, like Morgan Neville’s new Twenty Feet From Stardom or Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, have large amounts of personality and power.  While Salma is certainly loaded with interesting interviews that made me think and made me infuriated with some attitudes shown, it lacks the personality and power of the aforementioned documentaries.  Longinotto does not put herself in her film and does not get enough of Salma’s personality in the film to make it anything more than a simple journalistic piece.  A story like Salma’s needs something more than what Longinotto can give it. 

That being said, the subject matter is very powerful and Salma is an interesting enough person to have kept me interested in the film.  The film does a good job at showing injustices done to women in India and was just enough to make me slightly more passionate about this topic than I was before. 

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend spending a large sum of money to buy a ticket to see Salma in theaters, but would certainly recommend renting this film because of the importance and timeliness of its subject.  It is a solid little film, but is nowhere near as strong as some of the documentaries that I have seen recently. 

Salma will be showing tomorrow at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at 6:30 pm as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.  

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