“This is where my life ended,” says an acid attack victim Rukhsana in the documentary film Saving Face (2012). The Pakistani film by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is the Academy Award winner in the category of Documentary (Short Subject). The women of Pakistan who have experienced acid assault are the focus of the film.
It centres on Dr. Muhammad Jawad, a plastic surgeon who returned to Pakistan from London to assist the victims of such atrocities. He treats women whose faces have been burned with acid by performing reconstructive surgery. It also features two victims of acid attacks who are awaiting justice. One of them is Rukhsana, a 23-year-old who was beaten up by her husband and in-laws. The other woman, 39-year-old Zakia, was attacked by her husband after divorcing him.
The lives of Zakia and Rukhsana and their efforts to bring their oppressors to justice are thus widely explained by the filmmakers to show this societal injustice prevailing in Pakistan. Saving Face portrays how the plastic surgeon is assisting the victims and how Zakia and Rukhsana are working hard to recover from their injuries and trauma. Rukhsana, like other victims, still struggles to overcome the agony which destroyed her completely.
The film highlights Pakistan’s patriarchal society and the country’s gender inequality problem. It gives a realistic look at the people involved, the surgical procedure and the harsh realities these women must face daily. It also follows the efforts of a female member of Parliament to introduce a law mandating life sentences for those responsible for acid attacks, and it is unanimously approved.
The film serves as an observational piece where the viewers are shown their life journeys and struggles and you are left with one motive and that somehow bring justice to these victims. The men after the assault show no remorse at all which makes you think how cruel they could be to another human.
Another thing I would like to highlight is the framings used in the documentary. The directors often used long shots and probably they wanted the audience to concentrate on both the subject and the surroundings. Close-up shots were also used, particularly when burned-face scenes were shown which accurately depict the harm caused by throwing acid on the victims.
It is fascinating to experience how the directors make use of music to intensify the impact of the pain experienced through the stories of the victims.
The themes of violence, patriarchy, inequality, freedom, and injustice, which are rightly shown in the film which give an insight to the viewers about how the atrocities against women still exist in society. In the end, their victories, be it small or big, we want to hold onto the hope that there won’t ever be another incident like this in the future.