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A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, 2015

This documentary short follows the story of a young woman named Saba, the survivor of an attempted "honor killing" by her father and uncle. With a surviving victim, the case cannot be dismissed in a rote way. As the court date approaches, Saba facing incrasing pressure to publicly state that she forgives her attackers so that they can be set free.

Ah, yes. The kind of movie that makes you want to put your fist through the wall.

What is there to say, really, when it's all right there on the screen? For as long as time, patriarchal societies have imposed controls over women's bodies and choices and lives using institutionalized physical, psychological, and sexual violence to punish women who step out of line.

Saba's crime is not, as you might assume, a sexual encounter. Instead, she has married a man to whom she was initially betrothed before her family set their sights on another prospect. She has disobeyed her father, and that merits putting a bullet in her head.

A lot of the frustration of the film is recognizing that there are systems in place that could put a stop to such murders (and in Saba's case, attempted murder). The police investigate, and the lead investigator seems genuine when he says that he hopes she will not forgive them and will actually pursue justice. There is a lawyer who is very sympathetic to the plight of women in Pakistan and their position as second class--or worse--citizens. And blatantly rigged though it might be, there is a court system in place.

But this is where the theoretical aims of a justice system and the reality of it collide: in how a society responds to injustice and what the official system is willing to do. It might be nice to think that this is limited to countries like Pakistan where bias is so overt (Saba's father talks about her like she's a pet and not a human being), but it shows up everywhere. If you doubt that, try googling "Justin Schneider Anchorage assault". In theory, Saba could refuse forgiveness. But she is slowly being backed into a wall. The decision to "compromise" (ie set them free and they'll totally promise not to try and murder her again) is made by the town elders. I'll give you one guess about the demographics of that group. And even underneath that, Saba is expected to follow the direction of her eldest brother-in-law. What is presented as a personal choice is not really a choice at all.

Amidst all of the wall-punch-inducing garbage, though, I must say that I loved Saba's spirit. Guess what: she was shot in the face, shoved in a bag, and pushed in a river by her own family members because they threw a little temper tantrum and she is MAD AS HELL. No demure waffling here. No making excuses for the pathetic imitations of men that are her male relatives. She's incredibly blunt about the horrific nature of their crime and her desire for them to be punished for it. She is well aware of the limitations on her freedom and her life's potential.

The kind of harrowing and necessary documentation that one day will hopefully be the relic of a forgotten time.