a girl in the river

Director: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

Genre: Documentary

Year: 2015

There are hardly any instances of short form documentaries that leave you with an indispensable feeling of disgust, but by God if A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS doesn’t warrant a desperate prayer in support of the film’s documented victims by the time it’s over. This short documentary quietly glided through 2015 under most people’s radars, only to take home the Academy Award this year. If that’s not enough, the prize was handed over by Louis C.K, who gave a hilarious but equally impassioned speech about the importance of honoring short documentary filmmakers, because unlike the rest of narrative filmmaking, it’s a mostly thankless subset of the industry.

Tracing the tale of a young Pakistani woman named Saba who survived an honor killing by her uncle and father, director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy delves deep into the red tape that causes the bureaucratic hardships if a girl manages to survive such an execution. Not only does the documentary make it painfully clear that the probability of surviving such a killing is incredibly low, but the film is nauseatingly effective in evoking an ever-growing sense of hopelessness as Saba fights for justice.

a girl in the river family and honor

Family and honor take their toll on the hunt for justice

Brilliantly edited and paced to perfection, Obaid-Chinoy’s greatest accomplishment is perhaps that she was aware of the fact that her narrative is best devoured rapidly and in short form. As such, the film never loses steam and never overstays its welcome, playing out like a captivating VICE report more than a traditional documentary. Its emotional beats are guttural and serve as a sucker punch for any viewer who naively anticipates a happy ending amidst this severe humanitarian crisis, and the balanced series of interviews help the viewer to rationalize what parts of Islamic belief allow for the condoning of such barbaric acts of violence.

Amidst the enormous array of contemporary documentaries that are released across countless platforms every year, it’s a challenge to create politically charged pieces that don’t overstay their welcome. Thanks to a brisk narrative pace and a singular focus on the story of the tragically sympathetic Saba, A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS manages to overcome all obstacles. While the documentary form hasn’t been reinvented by Obaid-Chinoy, she has showcased something of equal importance to fellow documentary filmmakers: Not every story warrants a feature-length investigation, because once you’ve told your audience everything they need to know, then you should also know to quit while you’re ahead.

Verdict: Recommend

"When I make love, I realize eating steak was the preferable alternative." Sergio is the Crossfader Film Editor and a film connoisseur from Romania. He pretends to understand culinary culture enough to call himself an LA foodie, but he just can't manage to like scallops.

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