Review: The Doll

Written and directed by Elahe Esmaili, after consulting with his relatives a 35-year-old father consents to the marriage of his 14-year-old daughter. As individuals with differing perspectives his family grapple with the decision.

Arranged marriage is undeniably a concept that sounds archaic to the western world, and is rarely ever portrayed by anything but characters frantically trying to avoid their overbearing parents. For that exact reason, it’s a great change of pace to bring a more objective eye to the idea in a modern world. The documentary opens with a tone of open discussion, not just taking into account the opinions of the adults but also of the children and the potential bride in question. That tone then moves into something conversational, even candid at times and creates a compelling atmosphere.

However, none of which makes it entirely possible to ignore the issue in question of handing off a child to be wed, which by most standards is unethical among other things. It’s a problem that becomes stronger as time goes on, as sympathy for the father starts to fly completely out of the window and he slips directly into exactly the stereotype you’d expect of a man in that situation. It then creates an interesting conflict of a person purporting themselves as holding a modern, open mind then revealing their traditional, misogynist personality.

Nevertheless, it starts a number of conversations about the place of traditional, old world values in modern society. It’s somewhat similar to films now opening up the idea of how strict monogamy is viewed in a more fluid world of relationships. It ticks both expected and unexpected boxes. Visually the style is very familiar and a classic documentary set-up which works well. The choice of subjects makes for a big variety of different personalities who give a slight edge of gossip, which helps keep that conversational, rather than serious feel.

The Doll is an interestingly new perspective on arranged marriage which could either open your mind to the idea or re-confirm your opposition to it. It’s a shame it does ultimately slip into the exact cliches that are attributed to the concept, dampening the more modern view it had built initially but it does still open up a relevant discussion. Outside of that issue, it’s well shot and edited and shows some great skills from writer, director Elahe Esmaili.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

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