Review by Sean Boelman
There is no denying that the fight for human rights is one of the most pressing issues that the world is currently facing. Filmmaker Jeff Kaufman’s documentary Nasrin attempts to call attention to this fight through a portrait of a courageous activist, and while it is powerful and moving, it feels a bit too similar to other biographies that have come before.
The movie tells the story of lawyer and civil rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has become one of the leading figures in the women’s rights movement in Iran, risking her life and freedom to stand up for the cause. The fact that this film was able to be made despite its unabashedly political content is a miracle in and of itself, but this story demands to be heard by as wide of an audience as possible.
If audiences leave the movie with one thing, it should be a profound respect for the bravery that Sotoudeh has shown in the face of opposition and pushback. Kaufman shows some of the threats that Sotoudeh has to live with, and they are absolutely terrifying, making the resilience that she has all the more impressive.
However, no matter how difficult it may be, Sotoudeh perseveres and fights for what she believes and values. There is no denying that she is a magnificent person who has shown a seemingly superhuman level of emotional strength, but the film emphasizes the difference that one person can make with dedication and empathy.
This isn’t a very long movie, clocking in right at ninety minutes, but Kaufman tells Sotoudeh’s story in a way that feels very complete. Admittedly, the film won’t hit as hard emotionally if one has seen other documentaries about activists dealing with similar situations, but that doesn’t reduce the importance of the message.
The movie features narration from Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman, and while her voice is very passionate and emotional when reading Sotoudeh’s story, this aspect is almost unnecessary. At times, it feels like an attempt to imbue the film with star power, almost undermining the fact that Sotoudeh should be compelling enough on her own.
Kaufman assembles his movie from anonymous sources filming in Iran, their identities left unrevealed as to protect them from potential retaliation. This very frenetic approach is fitting, further emphasizing the urgency of the situation. It’s not always the most glamorous documentary, but the fight for women’s rights frequently isn’t pretty.
Nasrin may fall back on documentary conventions a bit too often, but the story is more than strong enough to make it an urgent watch. It is sure to be an eye-opening experience even for those who are already well-informed.
Nasrin screens in virtual theaters beginning December 18. A list of participating locations can be found here.