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Film Review: My Pure Land

15 September 17 words: Ashley Carter

We checked out Nottingham director Sam Masud's debut feature ahead of its release at Broadway Cinema...

It’s hard not to be greatly impressed with Nottingham director Sam Masud’s debut feature film. Even before seeing My Pure Land, I was fortunate enough to interview him about the extreme circumstances in which it was created. Stories of self-financing, casting and shooting entirely in Pakistan and sacked extras returning to set with guns all painted a picture of an almost Herzogian figure, wrestling with the Devil himself in order to fulfill his creative vision. And now, having seen the film, I’m left with no doubt that his enormous effort was unequivocally worth it.

It’s the incredible true story of Nazo Dharejo; a Pakistani woman who finds herself responsible for defending her land and home after her scheming Uncle decides he is the rightful owner. With her brother and father out of the equation, it falls to Nazo to arm herself and, along with several other members of her small family, defend the property against both the Uncle and the 200 gun wielding mercenaries he has hired to take it by force.

We’re presented with a dual timeline, the first of which follows Nazo in the defence of her own private Alamo, as meditative moments of contemplation are ruthlessly interrupted by short, violent bursts of gunfire. The second seamlessly weaves the recent backstory of the events that led to the siege, drip-feeding us information of how she became the leader of this makeshift defense.

Masud’s direction masterfully captures moments of stillness and natural beauty amongst the chaos, as Nazo’s world flits between the innocence and splendor of rural Pakistan to the violent, corrupt vision of Hell she is forced to survive. A simple, but exquisitely effective score elicits waves of extreme tension, before Masud mercifully allows his audience moments of relief.

 All too often, films are marketed to latch on to a particular zeitgeist, or to mislead the biggest audience possible into a cinema. But seeing My Pure Land described as a “modern-day feminist Western” is far from being an empty marketing ploy: the heroic, idealistic standoff at the core of its plot is classically Western, and with its protagonist refusing to back down from the deeply patriarchal Pakistani society that is both literally and metaphorically threatening her from all sides, Suhaee Abro’s Nazo is every-inch the strong, feminist role model she is being heralded as.  

Nazo’s is a story told with passion and delicacy by Masud

My Pure Land is relentlessly absorbing and lyrically beautiful from beginning to end, managing to strike a perfect balance of entertainment and social importance. Nazo’s is a story told with passion and delicacy by Masud, brought to life by the magnetic lead performance of Suhaee Abro. Its non-linear plot takes us on a remarkable journey that never strays away from its core ideas: equality, honour and freedom from oppression.

It’s sublime storytelling, and has uncovered in Masud a director unafraid to create heartfelt, sincere and stunning cinema in the face of enormous obstacles. Its selection as the UK’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2018 Academy Awards is wholly merited, and awards for both Masud and Abro are doubtless to follow, and deservedly so.

Trailer

My Pure Land is screening at Broadway cinema until Thursday 23rd September

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