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Salma: Sundance Review

Salma
"Salma"

The Bottom Line

Unremarkable doc about a remarkable feminist achievement.

Venue:

Sundance Film Festival, World Documentary Competition (Women Make Movies)

Director:

Kim Longinotto

Kim Longinotto's doc centers on a woman who escaped her family's religious oppression to become a famous author and political figure.

PARK CITY -- Taking an impressive tale of repression and escape and making it surprisingly undramatic, Kim Longinotto's Salma introduces us to a South Indian woman who went from being confined by her family in a basement room to holding political office in Chennai. The subject matter assures some attention at fests and one-off bookings for activist groups, and it's easy to imagine interest in a feature adaptation of the story, but theatrical prospects for this telling are slim.

PHOTOS: The Scene at Sundance

Salma (who uses no surname) was raised in a Muslim community where girls are removed from society from the time they begin menstruating to the time they are married. Returning to the village where she grew up, she shows us the single foot-high window in the room she was confined to for nine years -- a window she fought over with her sister, her roommate there for some of that time. (Even more depressing, Salma's mother abandoned her at birth to her then seven-year-old aunt -- her father had no interest in a female child.)

After finally being tricked into marriage, Salma began composing poems about her plight. Her violently possessive husband -- she recalls sleeping with one of her sons shielding her, lest he follow through on threats to burn her with acid -- refused to allow her writing materials, so she hid pens among her feminine hygiene products and wrote on old scraps of calendars and the like. Eventually, she got her poems to a publisher, earned some fame with a book and became a local politician.

All of this is told in the past tense, some by participants who have since made their peace with Salma and some in dry onscreen titles. Though occasional moments have an emotional charge -- seeing Salma's mother laugh as she admits, "I suppose I was too young to care" about giving up her daughter is particularly jarring -- more often, they are simply informative, leaving us to register the horror of life in a community where women are little more than property used to manufacture more male children.

Production company: Vixen Films
Director/producer/director of photography: Kim Longinotto
Screenwriter: Ollie Huddleston
Executive producers: Hamish Mykura, Anna Miralis
Music: Samuel Sim
Editor: Ollie Huddleston
No rating, 89 minutes