By Vic Holtreman
Short version: A powerful documentary about a young woman who risks her life for human rights in Afghanistan and gives insight into what daily life is like there.
Regardless of which side you are on in regards to the current war, you will be entranced by Enemies of Happiness. It is an important film which humanizes the people of Afghanistan by showing the daily struggles of everday people and how the lingering ways of the previous regime still hover over their lives.
The films opens at a government meeting in 2003, where Malalai Joya, then a 25 year old woman and outspoken critic of the Taliban (which marks her as incredibly brave right from the start) is given the opportunity to speak to the hundreds of people present. She criticisizes the government for still allowing tribal warlords to be in power and function as part of the government, pointing out the atrocities that they have committed, particularly against women, over many years. Although we are shown some nods of agreement with her statement in the audience, the official presiding over the meeting has her thrown out and banned permanently from any future meeting of this type.
Cut to three years later, in 2006, where Malalai is running for Paliament in the first-ever free elections in Afghanistan history. Her life has been in danger since that day in 2003 and she has had to move constantly, never living in one place too long. Although she despises the traditional burka that women have been forced to wear for so long, she must wear it when she goes outside. Ironically that sign of oppression of women now serves to hide her from her enemies.
Malalai is not only a politician – she also serves as a counsellor and and lawyer to the locals, offering advice to a young girl of 13 who is in danger of being forced into marriage with an opium dealer old enough to be her grandfather, and to a married couple whose marriage is being destroyed by a husband who is an opium addict. At one point she sits down with the opium dealer in an effort to talk him out of forcing the young girl into marriage (he already has multiple wives) and although we certainly don’t side with him, we get to see that perhaps there is more than one side to this story and that although the father of the young girl wants to protect her desperately he may not have been completely honest with Malalai about what he accepted in exchange for his daughter. It is heart wrenching to see this young girl come to Malalai pleading for help, not wanting to marry this man and saying that if worse comes to worse she would rather set herself on fire than marry him.
The love and dedication that Malalai has for her people and to the idea of freedom is obvious and geniune, and that is what has contributed to her popularity and status as a folk hero among her people. At one point a very elderly woman arrives to visit her, who has walked with cane for two hours to come see her. She is obviously over 80 years old and claims to be 100 although she probably doesn’t really know her own age. Her belief in Malalai is touching and humbling: She has seen much in her life and seeing her hope that Malalai can actually change things that have been the status quo for so long is very moving and shows the faith the people have in her.
There is no sense of self-awareness of heroism however, only a feeling that she is doing what she can because she can. She is an amazing woman, doing what she knows to be right despite many assasination attempts on her life and the constant threat of death.
Even if you’re not generally a fan of documentaries, this is an important film and I highly recommend that you find a way to see Enemies of Happiness.
Official website for the film: EnemiesOfHappiness.com
Malalai Joya’s website: MalalaiJoya.com