The Beauty Academy of Kabul
Bouncing between the achingly sincere and the alarmingly fatuous, Liz Mermin’s documentary about a group of women who journey to a war-ravaged Kabul in Afghanistan to start a beauty school at first feels like folly. And when you discover that this relief effort is called “Beauty Without Borders” and listen to some of its British women talk about a style and a shampoo practically being catalysts to modernizing Afghanistan, you’re a little bit embarrassed to be witnessing such gall in action. Thankfully, Mermin’s camera, which peeks in on the construction and run-up to the school’s opening and its first class, is more interested in the Afghan women than their Western instructors. Not that these teachers don’t have their hearts in the right place—one teacher, when asked why she came to do this, searches for the appropriate words to convey her own admiration for the “underground” hairdressers who continued to practice in their homes under the Taliban. But the enduring vanity of the Afghan women themselves is electrically endearing—it doesn’t take very long for the reticent and veiled to warm both to the social company of other women and the knowledge that this work is one of the few ways they can make a significant independent income.