The controversial subject matter under the microscope in The Tainted Veil lends itself well to the documentary’s multifaceted exploration, which is built predominantly on the subjective opinions and personal histories of its interviewees. The subject in question is the hijab, the traditional attire worn by Muslim women to cover their heads, controversial for being perceived as a symbol of strict patriarchal control. The filmmakers allow their Muslim and non-Muslim participants to speak openly of their feelings toward the hijab without passing judgment, resulting in a film that encourages audiences to make up their own minds on the matter.
The hijab is a complex aspect of Muslim faith and the doc is most successful at articulating the various reasons, religious, moral, or otherwise, for its use. One of the most striking testimonials comes from a British woman who wears her hijab as a kind of feminist statement, specifically as a response to the objectifying gaze of her father, a fashion photographer who spent his career taking pictures of gorgeous models. Even if the look of the film is flattening, distractingly abundant in the sort of whip pans and quick zooms one expects from a Paul Greengrass production, one never loses sight of the fact that the interviewees speak only for themselves, and not as a collective hive-mind.
Though The Tainted Veil occasionally features scholars elaborating on how the use of the hijab has varied according to its historical context, notably missing here is an objective analysis on any scale into the psychology or sociology of upholding religious traditions. But it appears that hard research would have afflicted the film’s warm humanism with a cool distance, as the filmmakers refuse to promote a political agenda of their own in order to let the varied convictions of others foster a necessary dialogue.