After consulting with his relatives a 35-year-old father approves the marriage of his 14-year-old daughter. As individuals with differing perspectives his family grapple with the decision.
Alireza is consenting to the marriage of his daughter, Asal, even though she is just 14 and in the ninth grade. He has consulted with his relatives and each has their own opinion but to most of them underaged marriage is not an ideal option. There are however many factors for them to consider: Alireza, divorced recently, has financial problems and is living at his workplace. There’s concern about the potential for Asal to pursue relationships with boys outside of islamic marriage and, on top of this, the suitor seems like a good candidate. Asal herself doesn't argue the decision as she has reasons of her own to pursue the marriage. As the story unfolds we investigate a family’s attitudes and perspectives as they reconcile an imminent underage marriage.
"The jury proudly awards the prize for the best international short film to The Doll for its complex and nuanced portrait of a family caught between traditions and personal values. With a sensitive and attentive look at her subjects, the filmmaker offers us a film of incredible richness on a human experience that would be easy to judge from a Western point of view. Unsettling, endearing, and sometimes even shocking, this film will not leave anyone indifferent."
Jury Statement, Hot Docs
"For its frank and compelling look at the practice of child marriage, and the masterfully complex portrayal of a family caught between the powerful chains of patriarchal tradition, their own beliefs, and personal needs and desires, we would like to give an Honorable Mention to The Doll, directed by Elahe Esmaili."
Jury Statement, Mamoth Lakes IFF
Born in 1990, Mashhad, Iran. She is a MA student at NFTS; and a BA alumna from Tehran University of Art. Since 2016- when she ranked 1st among more than 150,000 participants in Iranian Art Konkur (national university entrance exam) - she is a member of Iran's National Elites Foundation.
She concerns about children's and women's rights; Issues like child marriage, child abuse, neglect, or violence by parents, rape, women-against-women, and social inequalities.
Her statement about The Doll:
I wish it was otherwise.
Living in a patriarchal society for years has shaped my outlook as a filmmaker; lots of inequalities due to being female, being a second-class citizen as well as the tough feeling of being the property of a man. These are the important issues that I’m going to criticize through my films to build a better future for the generations to come.
According to the official statistics of the Vice President, every year there are 30,000 marriages held with underage girls in Iran. In 'The Doll' I have tried to depict the dramatic situation of a teenage girl’s future in her father’s hands. In this case, though satisfied with her father's decision, Asal has reasons of her own to pursue the marriage.
When I completed the research phase, although I realized the story would require a lot of interviews with individual family members, I couldn’t let it get away.
There are lots of teenage girls in similar or even worse situations in Iran that I might help with this movie; when I was editing the film news spread of Romina, a 14-year-old girl who was violently murdered in her sleep by her own father because she was having a relationship with a boy. Soon after, in December 2020, Ronak, who had married at age 14 only the year before set herself on fire after constant arguments with her husband, ending her life. Asal, and many like her, are still alive but their future is cloaked in shadow.
"I have seen loads of young girls getting married at very young ages. They all had to struggle with multiple issues in their life only because they made this life-changing decision when they weren’t mature enough to do it. The upsetting fact is that it still happens a lot, and I couldn’t be indifferent. So when I heard the story, I didn’t drop it."
"I wanted to show what I’ve seen and what I have in this situation. I have my own judgements and ideals, but I wanted to give the audience all those information from all aspects. I wanted to depict this complicated situation so that they can decide what’s going on, what’s good, what’s bad. I wanted to be less judgemental. And let audience judge themselves."
"There's a lot of natural comedy here but it's balanced by the tragedy of Asil's situation as she comes to seem more and more out of her depth."
"There’s the initial temptation, particularly upon first glance from a Western viewer’s perspective, to view The Doll as an indictment of the seemingly patriarchal implications of certain Islamic cultural traditions. But ... Esmaili’s film offers a nuanced and complex portrayal of a family caught between tradition, personal beliefs, and circumstance...."
"The Doll and this female filmmaker are definitely part of raising awareness on the inhumane injustices and attitudes that reduce women to anything less than the resilient, nurturing powerhouses that we are."
"The Doll isn't simply about an exception but about a contentious and universal social issue, leveraging Asal's story as a figurehead for an matter that is prevalent but not limited to Islamic societies."
“The Doll” is a remarkably engaging film, especially given that it’s composed primarily interviews to camera, and if it leaves the viewer with more questions than answers, that’s all part of the plan.
"Elahe Esmaili manages to create a sustained rhythm through these interviews, dosing the information to establish narrative turning points that are sometimes surprising. It is an interesting use of simple resources to build a story that is slowly being discovered." (Translated)
"Instead of a wedding, we are given an engagement, and the gradual plotting of a marriage that might or might not happen. All the question marks hanging in the air are motivating us to think deeper about what we have seen and heard."
The documentary (THE DOLL) does not presume to pronounce judgement or patronize its subjects, choosing instead to show the people as they are, without losing sight of the personal tragedy that may be staved off, but will likely not be evaded. Esmaili’s direction is incredible for its astute grasp on the story, and, as mentioned before, subtlety and restraint.