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The Beauty Academy of Kabul
The Beauty Academy of Kabul
Director: Liz Mermin
Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
NR     2006     1hr 14min

An arresting and optimistic portrait of post-Taliban Afghanistan, the theatrical hit THE BEAUTY ACADEMY OF KABUL captures the wonderfully odd circumstances that bring Afghan and American women together in pursuit of physic...  more »


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Movie Details

Director: Liz Mermin
Creators: Lynda Hall, Liz Mermin, Linda Saetre, Nigel Noble, Sheri Levine
Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Military & War
Studio: Docurama
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 12/19/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 14min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, Persian

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Movie Reviews

...and ugly goes right to the bone.
Jean E. Pouliot | Newburyport, MA United States | 10/16/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)

""The Beauty Academy of Kabul" is a documentary about a group of American women hairdressers who travel to Kabul to teach hairdressing to Afghani women in the post-Taliban era. The film has many positives, mainly its interviews with the women students. Surprisingly, many seem cheerful. A few talk about the war or the Taliban. But against the backdrop of bombed out buildings and ruined villas, their laughter is obviously a defense against unbearable inner pain. The glimpses of their lives -- the houses they live in, the music they listen to, the images they watch and the structure of their families -- is priceless.

While I admire the Americans for their act of kindness, it becomes clear early on that they are almost completely insensitive to the mores of the Afghanis. The students, first of all, are survivors of a brutal regime in a male-dominated, Islamic society. Under the Taliban, many risked punishment to run beauty salons out their own homes.To hear these women being lectured by know-it-all Americans was ghastly. Almost to a person, the Americans were arrogant and insensitive. One woman figured she would single-handedly "liberate" the streets by driving a car -- unheard of in that country. The stares and glares she received did not seem to faze her. Another woman engaged the students in pre-class meditation -- something that must have seemed bizarre (and faintly heretical!) to these Muslim women. Most of the teachers treated their students as rookies -- unmoved that they had been working in the business for years and years. Overall, the Afghani women were serious, devout, family-oriented workaholics. The Americans -- beauty-obsessed, swinging singles and into New Age religion if any at all -- epitomized the stereotype that Americans are loud, brash, disconnected and uncaring.

This was not a feel-good story about cultures learning from one another. It was a story about one culture enduring the rudeness of another in return for advancing its own agenda. It's not clear whether the filmmakers were aware of how awful their subjects looked. It's not clear that they realized the horrific rudeness that was being recorded. Anyway, horrors and all, "The Beauty Academy Of Kabul" could have been a great film had it bothered to ask a few questions, such as, Now that the Americans have left, are you glad they came? What did you think of them? Does meeting them make you more or less receptive to Western values? And so on. It was a major shortcoming that the film left these questions unexpressed. Still, the value of a glimpse into real life in an alien culture was quote worthwhile."
Worth viewing
JWG | Arlington VA USA | 01/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Not withstanding the vanity of the western women, this is a poignant, agenda-less film that documents the gap between the east and west, and the modest aspirations of Afghani women to show their visage in public.

This movie is certainly interesting in demonstrating the chasm between between eastern and western feminine mores. Nothing like a bunch of dead family members to cement a reluctance to adopt western fashion. Certainly the chasm is so substantial that its hard to fathom that a term such as "love marriage" exists on this planet, but there it is. And the flakiness that is celebrated in the west as "diversity" and "enlightenment" is exposed in this film for its weirdness. Afghani society is not so tolerant of behavior that is outside the lines.

If nothing else, we have a misinterpretation of gaps; we have westerners hoping to cross decades of difference when the gap is centuries. And yet the resilient women of Kabul, some who have never known peace know that they are right and that the battle is not a matter how but when. This is not a story with dramatic twists or stunning turns, but a modest story of cowed women taking modest steps to assert themselves in a society that suddenly stopped caring what women had to say and only now minimally willing to consider their contribution. It is a moving story of small acts of courage in the face of cultural retardation."
Feminist liberation or cultural imperialism?
Daniel B. Clendenin | | 01/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In 2003 six American hairdressers opened a beauty school in the bombed out ruins of post-Taliban Kabul. Director Liz Mermin follows this venture from the grand opening and selection of the first class to the graduation dinner three months later. Two of the volunteers, Sima and Shaima, had emigrated from Afghanistan to the United States more than twenty years earlier, and their cultural reconnection is emotionally powerful. "It's been twenty years since I was here," observes Sima, "but the country has regressed a hundred years." Two other volunteers are positively obnoxious; they cannot understand why these Afghan women would not wear makeup, drive, or anger their husbands. One of them begins classes with yoga meditation as the Afghan women giggle. Another gushes that their project is not just about hair and makeup but about "healing the country." The real heroes that make this film worth watching, though, are the Afghan women. "Our men have backwards mentalities," one of them laments. I found the symbolism of a beauty parlor run by culturally insensitive American do-gooders in a conservative Muslim country rich with paradox. Was this project one of genuine feminist liberation or self-congratulatory cultural imperialism? A little of both, I thought. In English and Afghan."
Hairdressers out from hiding . . .
Ronald Scheer | Los Angeles | 04/24/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This revealing and sometimes amusing documentary follows the efforts of several western women to open a beauty school in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the days following the fall of the Taliban regime. Here the feminist assumptions of the school's instructors collide with the realities of life for women in a more traditional, male-dominated Islamic culture.

The filmmakers have been invited into the homes of some of these women and we learn a great deal about their values and aspirations, as well as what is expected of them. When a young single woman reveals that she is "in love" with a young man, she makes the filmmaker promise not to tell her mother, who would strongly disapprove. A married woman speaks of living through the reign of Taliban terror that kept women house-bound, and another describes secretly working as a hairdresser during those years in her home - in defiance of the law. The beauty school instructors may make you cringe, but you'll admire their students."