On Her Shoulders (4 stars)

On Her Shoulders

Alexandria Bombach's weighty documentary follows courageous campaigner Nadia Murad

The joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, Nadia Murad – who campaigns against sexual violence and the murder of the Yazidi people by ISIS – is the subject of Alexandria Bombach's weighty documentary. In 2014, Murad was a student residing in the village of Kocho in northern Iraq when she was kidnapped by Islamic State fighters and transported to Mosul; during their violent takeover, the majority of her family and fellow villagers were killed or, like her, captured and held as sex slaves.

Bombach slyly peeks behind the curtain as Murad advocates for her people by retelling her horrific story time and time again on a tour of the West that takes in political arenas and multiple media outlets. Represented by Amal Clooney, Murad's ultimate goal is for pragmatic action to be taken but, as she progresses, the disillusioning process takes its toll.

When she's given three minutes to address the UN General Assembly in a speech, Bombach observes the lengthy development of Murad's writing and the conversations she has with her advisor and translator as he protects her from insensitive comments and questioning. Bombach captures revealing moments as the pair look on at celebratory military parades with their jaws agape.

Nearly every person Murad comes into contact with laughs nervously and chatters inanely, not wanting to really address the horrors that have been inflicted upon her – it's the sheer awkwardness of these interactions that the film superbly hones in on. As people attempt to bring levity to Murad's trips to Canada or through Europe she smiles along and, though there's nothing but good intentions from all involved, it's not ever really comfortable.

When Murad speaks directly to camera, or gives her powerful UN speech, her courage is remarkable and her pain apparent. Bombach clearly wants to shed light on the subject but takes it one step further by asking the audience to consider the morality of putting those seeking asylum through their paces.

Limited release from Fri 25 Jan.

On Her Shoulders

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 35min
  • Directed by: Alexandria Bombach

Documentary about Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, who as a student was kidnapped by Islamic State fighters in 2014 and held as a sex slave. It follows her tour of the West as she talks about her experiences, and captures the reactions of people around her, as well as Murad’s own courage and pain.

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