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The Doll - A Short Documentary About Child Marriage


The Doll is an Iranian short documentary about child marriage, which focusses on the story a 14-year-old girl named Asal. Taking an objective stance and allowing interviewees to speak freely, the film captures some of the nuances of the matter without passing judgement. Iranian filmmaker, Elahe Esmaili, voices her concerns about children's and women's rights by simply representing the complicated situation as it stands. While Esmaili is dealing with child marriage within the context of a staunch patriarchal society in The Doll, the film also touches on parental conduct, violence against woman and overarching social inequalities.

The documentary laces together interviewees from across Asal's immediate family circle with a primary focus on her and her father. Introducing the situation, husbands and wives from both sides of the equation explain the age they were married and offer their opinion on whether it's wise to do the same. Specifically speaking into Asal's impending child marriage, the general consensus is that it isn't wise for a girl to marry so young. From not being mature enough to being unable to attend to her husband's practical needs, there appears to be a general understanding that 14 is much too young. From this point, The Doll narrows down the discussion to young Asal whose father has promised her to another man.

Through interviews with the attractive girl, it becomes apparent that she's still very much entrenched in her childhood. Accepting toys and candy as gifts, learning to skate and still figuring out who she is in terms of personal style and what she wants to do with her life, the exuberant youngster is in her rebellious stage. Estranged from his wife, who he had to discipline through physical violence, it becomes clear why Asal's marriage couldn't come soon enough. Living in his photographer work studio and wanting to move on with his life by marrying his fiancee, it appears Asal's presence has become a nuisance - both reminding her father of his ex-wife and destined to be a problem to his second wife.

The Doll documentary

The stream of interviews flows steadily as one gets a good sense of the situation through familial speculation and words from the prime subjects themselves. While we never become acquainted with the suitor who's studying medicine, the underlying concern from her family in a culture where child marriage is normalised and permitted, speaks volumes. 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.

Speaking quite candidly as if none of the family members will ever hear their comments, the documentary unearths a number of deeper social issues affecting women and children, which could serve as the subject of spin-off documentaries. The Doll's powerful, timely and important message is what creates an eerie undertone to this matter-of-fact documentary. Asal's willingness to get married and her father's eagerness for his daughter to essentially be adopted by another family with a view to marriage don't seem to fully comprehend the underlying issues. According to the Statistical Centre of Iran, over 300 children were born from mothers aged 15 or younger during the Spring of 2020.

The Doll documentary

While repetitive, the interviews have an openness and honesty, compelling the viewer through an almost seamless channel of thought as comments are stringed together to create a sense of continuity. Beautifully framed and shot, The Doll is almost entirely comprised of talking heads, offering cutaway footage of home videos, the family in their day jobs, passing time at home, dealing with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and having fun at a skate park. Esmaili creates a sense of authenticity and establishes trust with her subjects, one of the documentary's main selling points, which underlines the importance of its message. While Asal has been exposed to Instagram and realises there's another world beyond the fashion and fun of the platform, her excited anticipation of becoming a child bride does jar.

Esmaili is a brave filmmaker, whose thought-provoking work is sure to create international interest and spark the right kinds of conversations. If The Doll is what she's able to achieve with modest resources, one can only imagine what other groundbreaking social issues documentary ideas she will be unearthing next.