The private life of a public heroine
HE NAMED ME MALALA ★★★ Directed by Davis Guggenheim. Featuring Malala Yousafzai. PG cert, general release, 88 min
We’re not entirely clear on the meaning and implications of the term feng shui, but it’s a phrase that almost certainly pertains to the uncluttered, patient documentaries of Davis Guggenheim. In 2006, the director won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, a straightforward bulletpointed lecture from Al Gore, replete with graphs, infomatics and an entertaining clip from Futurama.
He Named Me Malala is similarly unfussy. Guggenheim’s portrait of teenage Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai is remarkable in terms of access to its subject’s life. We travel with her as she visits schoolgirls in Kenya, meets refugees on the Syrian border and – most poignantly – muddles along at school in Birmingham.
The film reconstructs the day when the Taliban shot Malala travelling from school in her native Pakistan, but Guggenheim is keen to avoid geopolitics and campaigning in favour of small, intimate moments. If An Inconvenient Truth was a Powerpoint project, He Named Me Malala is a family album.
The film’s heroine, we learn in an animated overture, was named for an Afghani folktale, Malalai of Maiwand, which recounts the deeds of a Pashtun girl who led the charge against British invaders. It’s as fitting a namesake as could be and, as with Malala’s passion for education, it was handed down from her father.
The pair are poignantly close: “one brain with two different bodies,” as dad puts it. Her mother, meanwhile, is a very traditional Pakistani woman, who prefers to stay in the background. She makes for a strong presence, nonetheless.
Guggenheim delights in such details as Malala googling pictures of Roger Federer and Brad Pitt. This is not a grandstanding, issue-driven project, but a movie about a teenage girl clearly made for other teenage girls. A post-theatrical life in classrooms beckons.
For girls: Malala Yousafzai in He Named Me Malala