Day One ★½

[Part 5 of last night's screening of Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts. See my rankings here]

How embarrassing (and unfortunately stereotypical) that in a category with five nominations from five separate countries, the most emotionally manipulative, least nuanced one came from the USA.

Some films, like Mustang, have a certain self-evident authenticity to them. I left it thinking "This was absolutely directed by a woman, and she either lived this or is intimately close to people who did." This one, following a female translator working for the army in Afghanistan, provoked the opposite reaction. "A man definitely made this, and boy does he think it's honest."

Which isn't to say that Hughes' heart isn't in the right place. I'm sure he thinks he's shining a light on an important truth: that life for women is extremely difficult in the conditions of war, and that they should be recognized for it. The film is even somewhat autobiographical, dedicated to the translator with whom the director served on his own tour in Afghanistan. But it smacks of the same sort of benevolent sexism that makes bosses give awards to their secretaries, or working husbands declare stay-at-home-motherhood "the hardest job of all" precisely one day a year. It's nice and, ultimately, true, but rarely do I believe they mean it.

There are numerous reasons the female experience might be uniquely difficult in Afghanistan. Hughes provides exactly four: a lack of physical fitness, needing to pee more often, menstruation, and childbirth. Each felt so shallow, so on-the-nose to me, like the filmmaker hadn't actually bothered to consider anything deeper than bodily function. There are hints of psychological or societal factors, but only of the condescending "a gentle woman in the land of warriors" variety (see: 13 Hours, Sicario.)

It also just felt a bit too easy, too loose with its tragedies. The pivotal scene in this movie is painful to watch, to be sure, but it doesn't feel like a necessary, humanitarian sort of pain (see: Son of Saul.) It feels more like a quote important endquote film grasping to connect, putting its characters (and the audience) through a masochistic ride so we'd come out the other end thinking something deep had happened. Nothing struck me as new or insightful. Only distasteful and desperate.