‘In Her Hands’ Review: A Young Woman’s Resolve as Life Unravels

Tamana Ayazi and Marcel Mettelsiefen’s new documentary, “In Her Hands,” scrambles as it chases a moving target. When the film begins in January 2020, their subject, the 26-year-old Zarifa Ghafari, is one of Afghanistan’s first female mayors, and a beleaguered but determined champion of women’s rights. By the time the movie wraps up in early 2022, Ghafari has survived a murder attempt, lost her father to an assassination and sought asylum in Germany after the Taliban’s 2021 recapture of Kabul. “In Her Hands” struggles to keep up with these escalating developments, leaving loose ends at every turn.

Executive produced by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, the film is so enamored with Ghafari’s status as an exceptional symbol — a powerful woman in a man’s world — that her actual work as a politician gets short shrift. We see her receiving an award in Washington, D.C., and giving speeches about the importance of women’s education, but learn little about how she became the mayor, what her policies are or what her constituents think of her.

At points, the lack of context is not just sloppy but irresponsible. When Ghafari is transferred from her town of Maidan Sharto a job in Kabul, her bodyguard, Massoum, now unemployed, starts socializing with Taliban fighters. Offering little insight into his motivations, the film makes the troubling implication that Ghafari’s abandonment has driven him to the other side.

Ghafari’s most difficult decision — to flee the country after having insisted on staying with her people — is given the same cursory treatment. Footage of desperate Afghans crowding airports, trying to escape, makes the urgency of the situation palpable, but it also obfuscates the logistics of Ghafari’s own exit and the questions of access and privilege it raises. These sanded edges only do a disservice to a complex, courageous young woman faced with unimaginable choices.

In Her Hands
Rated PG-13 for troubling images of war, violence and despair. In Dari, Pashto and English, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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