The Beauty Academy of Kabul

Film
CURL HARBOR An aspiring aesthetician plies her trade.
CURL HARBOR An aspiring aesthetician plies her trade.

Time Out says

The world may have long since turned its attention to Iraq, but the reconstruction of Afghanistan remains a work in progress. And while the subject of Liz Mermin’s documentary—a Kabul beauty school operated by six American women (half of them Afghan-born) for three months during 2003—may seem a trivial blip on the radar of nation-building, it’s worth remembering that Taliban despotism forbade both the wearing of makeup and the education of women, rendering the school’s very existence doubly transgressive. Not that The Beauty Academy of Kabul is a political film—a graduation-ceremony moment of silence for “global peace” is indicative of the level of discourse here (and of the patronizing therapy-speak clichs to which the Americans occasionally resort).

Skin-deep in more ways than one, the movie leaves some tantalizing questions not only unanswered but unasked: What is the place of aesthetics in a society where most are struggling to eke out a living? And what about the seemingly contradictory notion of beauty standards, long a feminist albatross, as a signifier of liberation? Even so, the cultural gap continually asserts itself: Nowhere is the status of Afghan women more evident than in the scene where one of the instructors drives herself around Kabul, loudly proclaiming that she feels as much at home as back in Indiana, blissfully unconcerned about the men staring from surrounding cars. (Opens Fri; Angelika
.)—Joshua Land

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