When’s the last time you’ve seen a movie shot in Afghanistan? If you’re drawing a blank, you’re probably not alone. In the past decade, only a handful of films based on the Taliban have been released, and only a small selection of those films were actually shot on location. To even attempt to film a movie in Afghanistan risks death, so before any critiques are delivered, Sonai Nasser Cole’s latest film, The Black Tulip deserves respect on that front.
The Black Tulip is the story of Farishta Mansouri, a female Afghan restaurant owner (played by Sonai Nasser Cole) and her bohemian café, The Poet’s Corner, where visitors can read and recite poetry while drinking wine from teapots and sitting amongst American soldiers—essentially, not something the Taliban is likely to tolerate for long. Once the Taliban catches on to what is going on inside of The Poet’s Corner, Farishta begins losing family members and friends to Taliban-orchestrated murders and kidnappings, eventually leading her and her husband (played by Haji Gul Aser) to close down their restaurant and engage in a fight for freedom.
The film definitely sits better with an American audience than an Afghan one. Though The Black Tulip has good intentions (anti-Taliban ones), its depiction of genuine Afghan culture is at times inaccurate. The film has been criticized by Afghans for a variety of reasons, ranging from improper actions such as a woman kissing her fiancé through her burqa to an erroneous depiction of an Afghan funeral. Though the director, Sonia Nassery Cole, was born in Afghanistan, her lack of time inside the country shows. However, for the average American, mildly educated in world affairs, it’s tough to say if any of these incidences will be noticed. As far as filmmaking goes, The Black Tulip reads like a drama, with twists and turns around every corner.
Getting a film like The Black Tulip filmed, produced and out into the public is an impressive feat—it’s just a shame the effort didn’t yield a better film.
Director: Sonia Nassery Cole
Writer: Sonia Nassery Cole, David Michael O’Neill
Starring: Haji Ful Aser, Sonia Nassery Cole, Walid Amini
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2012