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BERLINALE 2024 Generation

Review: Maydegol


- BERLINALE 2024: Iran's Sarvnaz Alambeigi delivers a bitter and moving documentary about a 19-year-old exiled Afghan girl, a thai boxing practitioner in a relentless and desperate quest for freedom

Review: Maydegol

“All the people who give us bad vibes, who don’t believe in us, in our ability to fulfil our dreams, we have to get rid of them.” Two young friends pick up rocks, mentally project into them everything negative about their very difficult lives, then throw them as far as possible. Then, they laugh. We are in Iran and they are Afghan girls, living in the very uncomfortable position of exiles, which seems of particular interest to Iranian cinema currently, as seen in In the Land of Brothers [+see also:
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(winner of the award for Best Director in January at Sundance). It’s a topic that director Sarvnaz Alambeigi (first noticed with 1001 Nights Apart) has chosen to tackle in the form of a documentary portrait with the bitter and moving Maydegol, discovered in the Generation 14plus programme of the 74th Berlinale.

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At 19, Razieh is fearless and does not hesitate to knock on all the doors in search of another job (and do not tell her any job is “a man’s job”!), in addition to the two she already has in an orchard and a mushroom farm. But she also likes to knock on things at the gym where she trains to failure, dreaming of joining the Afghan national Thai boxing team. When it comes to knocks, she unfortunately has plenty of experience, being the victim (as is the rest of her family of eight, including her mother) of a violent father. In short, her life is far from being a bed of roses (we will in fact learn at the end of the film that Maydegol means “broken flower”). But Razieh is persistent because she absolutely must find a way out (“I have no hope here, no attachments, no family, no friends”), stuck in a daily life where Afghan refugees are ostracised, deprived of a legal identity and of a native country where the Talibans are in control, which isn’t a good sign. What to do? Get married? Fight? As her trainer says, “this is a power struggle. One step back, that’s a sign of fear. Being hit does not mean much in Thai boxing, what counts is controlling yourself, dominating your adversary.” But nothing is easy; will Razieh manage to build herself a future? 

Close to its protagonist, who is like an Afghan Rosetta, always in movement, the documentary follows her through the many conversations she has with her loved ones (girls her age who share her worries and the same hope to escape the curse of a difficult destiny), in the ring and during her times alone (on public transport, or walking the streets in the dark night alongside stray dogs). Getting around the problem of things which the camera cannot capture (domestic violence) with skillful work on the off-frame sonic landscape, Maydegol turns out to be a female documentary immersion of a kind that is rare in Iran, filmed in a raw style and full of very moving resonance (“we belong to nothing”) about the courage and resilience necessary to face the harshness of the world. 

Produced by the director’s German-Iranian company Rabison Art Production and co-produced by France’s Noori Pictures, Maydegol is sold internationally by the UK’s Taskovski Films.

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(Translated from French)

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