Set in the mountainous, dry northern region of Pakistan’s Hunza Valley, Yasmeen is a 12-year-old student at the local girls’ school. She admires her teacher, a gentle older man who clearly loves science and learning. She excels at math and, at home, figures out sums for her father. Her home life seems good. She has an older brother who seems to run a group of hackers as an organized business.

One day, soldiers come to the school gate, and her teacher goes out to meet them. They argue, but we need to learn what it’s about. The teacher then dismisses school early, and the girls take off down the hills, laughing, talking, and playing on the way. Once home, Yasmeen realizes she has lost her assignment for the next day. Each girl was given an element on the periodic table to write a report. She is not usually allowed to go anywhere except school by herself, so she tells her mother that her older brother will take her to a friend’s house, and she leaves in search of her teacher’s residence. Because she has yet to learn where he lives, she walks far from home in her search; her brother is too busy at work to accompany her and has an acquaintance’s help, but he proves useless. She never seems in danger on her journey; the villagers may be grumpy sometimes, but she’s safe.

Her journey ends successfully, but the future education of the town’s girls appears to be in jeopardy. Although the village seems somewhat progressive (men and women pray together at the mosque, not all women wear head scarves), it appears a conservative wave will be forced on them by outsiders or the government.

Never preachy, this film allows the story to unfold on its own. The remote, bleak, beautiful surroundings can’t protect the village from outside forces. We have to wonder what Yasmeen’s fate will be. Yasmeen’s Element is a lovely, poignant film. Of the cast, only Salman Alman Khan (not the Bollywood Salman Khan) has any other film credits. This group of amateurs, lead by young director Amman Abbasi have turned in a sensitive and meaningful movie.

Directed by Amman Abbasi

Cast: Eshal Fatima (Yasmeen), Abeera Rubab, Nazir Ahmed

Bubul, Naveed Hassan, Salman Alam Khan

In Urdu with English subtitles

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