Six diverse women attempt to shape their country’s future in The Sari Soldiers, Julie Bridgham’s affecting documentary, shot over three years, about Nepal’s tumultuous civil war. At the center of the film is Devi, an “untouchable” who publicly speaks out about the Royal Nepal Army’s rape and murder of her young niece, which leads authorities to kidnap her 15-year-old daughter in retaliation. Devi’s three-year crusade to uncover her child’s fate is the gut-wrenching emotional axis of this multipronged nonfiction tale, which otherwise concentrates on the plights of women on various sides of the conflict between authoritarian King Gyandara (who assumed absolute power in February 2005) and both Maoist insurgents and democratic activists. Bridgham treats her subjects with equal respect, whether it be elderly village leader and strict monarchist Krishna, who resents the Maoists’ violence against rural non-supporters, or Kranti, a wife and mother who holds a high position in the Maoist forces (whose makeup is estimated to be 40% female). Though they hold differing opinions about what rule best serves the nation, the women are bound by a common desire for stability and safety, as well as an underlying belief—evidenced by the fact that none have reservations about females’ active role in the civil war—that women deserve better than the subservient status they currently hold in Nepal’s caste-based society. A predictable downside to Sari Soldiers’s fractured focus is that a couple of the women receive undernourished attention, most troublingly Rajani, a Royal Nepal Army recruit following in her killed-in-action brother’s footsteps whose personal justifications for backing the ruling regime—and the female-second culture it upholds—goes unexplored. Even at its spottiest, however, Bridgham’s overarching portrait of political upheaval is compassionate and insightful, and in courageous Devi’s quest for maternal and social justice, the director discovers a symbol of both inspirational human rights advocacy, and the terrible tragedy of tyranny.
Sari Soldiers @ Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.