Saving Face won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short earlier this year. It is easy to see why it won. It’s 100% Oscar bait. It takes on a subject that demands attention from everyone in the world and it gives a harrowing account of that subject. Unfortunately, it never really rises above its Oscar bait foundation.
Saving Face follows a plastic surgeon that travels to Pakistan to operate on women who have been victims of acid attacks. As the film reveals, acid violence has been a major problem for women in Pakistan. This is really one of the first mainstream films to deal with such a shocking situation. The film is directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge, and the two do a phenomenal job of showing how far this problem goes. The film goes into how the Pakistani government and foreign governments are dealing with the problem. The film shows just what goes into reconstructive surgery for acid victims and (most fascinatingly) goes into the role of acid attacks in Pakistani societies. This last part is almost as well set up as the portrayal of Iranian society in A Separation (another Oscar winner from this year). It was shocking to see men continue on with their lives (relatively unchallenged) after they attack their wives with acid.
One of the film’s biggest strengths may also be one of its major weaknesses. While it is interesting to watch so much unfold in such a short time, it does feel like an overload for the viewer. I was never able to truly appreciate each arena this film was trying to take the subject matter into. I wish I was able to spend more time with how the Pakistani society reacts to domestic violence. The reconstructive surgery segments and the segments that tried to show how citizens were advocating against domestic violence also felt incomplete.
Another problem with the film is that it gets extremely hard to watch at times. The film isn’t afraid to show you the injuries the victims suffered in great detail. The film also isn’t afraid to show the harsher realities of Pakistani life. While most of this was necessary to make the film work, the film was in much need of some light or hope. A little more effort to showcase improvements in domestic living for women or more people saying there is hope for the future would have been good for the film. Even if that is not believed to be true, the fact that this film could even be made shows that things are changing in Pakistani society. That just goes to show (despite not being a great documentary) how important Saving Face is.
As mentioned above, Saving Face won an Academy Award and is also eligible for the Primetime Emmys later this year after it aired on HBO.