In Her Hands (2022)

At 26, Zarifa Ghafari, became one of Afghanistan's first female mayors and the youngest to ever hold the position. Filmed over two turbulent years, the film documents her personal battle for survival as her country unravels.
  • 6.7 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2022-11-17 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Tamana Ayazi, Marcel Mettelsiefen, Director:
  • Juan Camilo Cruz, Jonathan Schaerf, Producer:

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8 / 10

Drop the weapon and take up the pen

At 26 Zarifa Ghafari was the youngest female mayor in Afghanistan. "Men had their chance for 50 years," she says "and what did they achieve? Nothing!" This riveting and extensive documentary follows Zarifa for two years up to and including the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. With snow-capped mountains in the distance, her bodyguard with one hand on a steering wheel and the other on a rifle, the city lights of Kabul at night, and in the shadow of a gigantic ferris wheel, Zarifa is talkative, active, and buoyant even as she faces ceaseless turmoil and threats of harm to herself and her family.

In Her Hands is an emotional roller coaster that delves into seriously disturbing territory at times. Dead and maimed little girls in school are shown, the victims of an intentional Taliban attack, and a woman being forced to her knees in the center of a full stadium and executed for show. "We will witness these horrors again," says Zarifa. There are moments of happiness as well as horror, including a picture of Zarifa smiling and resting her head on her dad's shoulder.

One reason that In Her Hands is so fascinating is that it covers real and interesting people who shed light on why Afghanistan is such a disaster. "Politicians begged for money from the world," said Zarifa "and they put it in their own pockets." People support the Taliban because of these corrupt and greedy people who, like the Taliban, misled Afghans.

Massoum, Zarifa's bodyguard, and Musafer, a commander in the Taliban, are featured in the film along with Zarifa. "I will kill people until they believe," says Musafer. He seems nice.

Zarifa was present at this Toronto International Film Festival screening. She was every bit as captivating and energizing in person as she was in the film. She wrote a new book that will be released soon. "Speak up for the girls of Afghanistan" she urged the audience, "and keep those left behind in your hearts."

8 / 10

Outstanding documentary on daily life in Afghanistan

As "In Her Hands" (2022 release; 93 min) opens, it is August 15, 2021, as the Taliban overtake Kabul. We encounter a woman in distress, as she tells her husband "Either we go together, or we won't go at all". We then go to "January 2020. 19 Months Before The Fall of Kabul", and are introduced to the woman from the movie's opening scene. Turns out to be Zafari Ghafari, at 26 yo the youngest mayor in Afghanistan of a place called Maida Wardek, about 40 km away from Kabul. "Drop the weapon and take a pen", she encourages a crowd. She is "all in" on women's rights to education (among other things). The Taliban has issued death threats against her (of course!). At this point we are 10 minutes into the documentary.

Couple of comments: this documentary is directed by award-winning German director Marcel Mettelsiefen, who apparently embedded with Zarifa Ghatari for 2 1/2 years to bring us the extraordinary look at the life and times of people in Afghanistan, through the lens of this one brave woman, as they struggle in they day-to-day existence, dealing with never-ending threats of violence and worse from the Taliban. The movie also includes a look from within the Taliban, as we witness one of the Taliban commanders' coming and going. The documentary's last 30 minutes (when it all comes crashing down in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan) is jaw-dropping as we watch sheer misery and utter desperation. (Apparently it never leads anyone within the Taliban to wonder as they install a new order of terror which they claim is the "righteous" way of life, why millions of Afghans tried to flee the country in the worst possible of ways.)

"In Her Hands" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September to immediate critical acclaim. The movie started streaming on Netflix earlier this week. Please note that the movie's overall rating as currently showing here on OMDb (6.3 from 77 ratings) is misleading, with most of those almost certainly from people who haven't actually seen this (Taliban trolls, I'm guessing). If you want to get a glimpse of what life in Afghanistan was like in the last 18 months or so before the fall of Kabul and its immediate aftermath, I'd readily suggest you check this out, and draw your own conclusion.

5 / 10

A Hands-on Heuristic. A Good Attempt.

She was only 26 when she became a mayor in a country where once women would not dare walk alone on the streets. Her work was considered as blasphemous by many in her country. She was the mayor of Maidan Wardak, a town in Afghanistan surrounded by the Taliban territory. The youngest woman mayor in a country where for many decades women had been deprived of their basic rights. And then comes the 15 Aug, 2022 and she witnesses once again the darkness that she had known as a child slowly engulfs her beloved country. The grim reality returns. The fall of Kabul.

A great subject but documentary fails to capture the essence of it. It is a blurb as it leaves its viewers dig in further themselves to find more. A hands-on heuristic. Zaria Ghafari shown as a gutsy woman leader in the starting of the documentary surfaces as a frightened, weak deserter. While documentary deftly portrays the life in a war torn country amidst incessant fear and instability with a flawless flow, it fails to advance beyond the preface. Executive producers Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.