While researching for a planned Pakistani remake of Copland, film-maker Sarmad Masud happened upon an article about Nazo Dharejo: an eighteen year old woman forced to defend her family home from bandits after her father was imprisoned. Compelled by her story, Sarmad shelved the Copland plans, contacted Nazo and began writing what would soon become his feature debut.
My Pure Land is based on one of Pakistan’s million plus land/ property disputes. As well as highlighting legal/social incongruities, Nazo’s story had the fundamental components to form a compelling film plot: death, young love, broken homes, family honour, all themes which inform the central battle for survival tale with requisite emotion.
Nazo and her younger sister Saeda are introduced in the set-up/ throes of a gun-battle, brandishing semi-automatic weapons on the roof of their home. The barren surroundings, desert landscapes, ramshackle dwellings and writer/ director Masud’s rugged, pseudo documentary style lends My Pure Land a classic western (genre) edge, especially during the gun-fights, of which there are plenty.
Chief antagonist Merbhan, is also Nazo and Saeda’s uncle and younger brother of their father Khuda. Due to an inheritance discrepancy, Merbhan believes the family home should be rightfully his, so assembles a team of bandits to reclaim it. With their father imprisoned, Nazo and Saeda are forced to defend the property and protect their mother from their hell-bent, homicidal relative and his horde of gun toting outlaws.
Despite the wealth of researched background material, Masud’s script seems sometimes slender due to a proclivity for gunfight set-pieces. As a result, My Pure Land doesn’t initially resonate as profound and is not quite as poignant or commanding as it should be. The second act deepens characters via flashbacks but these devices should have been deployed earlier to make us care more about the characters when the gun battles occur. In turn, this would make us invest more emotion in the story during the set-pieces when the narrative slows down.
The script isn’t structured to efficiently strengthen the conflict so it can function as a driving force but sub-plot strands are gradually unveiled which enrich My Pure Land in the latter half. Nazo and her promised husband Zulfiqar: a local boy who works on their family farm, convey restrained affection flawlessly. Flashbacks of the father bonding with his daughters while teaching them about honour and how to fire a gun, also augments the narrative along with some much needed comedy which arrives in the form of a vacuous but mostly absent son/ brother.
The possibility of a conspiracy is presented as police and politicians try to capitalise on the land dispute for personal gain (like Copland) but My Pure Land really flourishes when focusing on the drama, characters and their love for each another.
An outstanding score by Tristan Cassel-Delavois, incorporates haunting vocals from folk/sufi singer Sanam Marvi and transcends genres to adorn each scene winningly. The sound design by Vicente Villaescusa is equally exquisite and compliments Cassel-Delavois’ work.
Masud’s style is refreshingly rugged yet extrapolates scraps of beauty from the incredible acting and impecunious settings. The action is flatly captured but bandits ducking behind cows to dodge bullets during a shoot-out is an amusing touch amongst the rustic mayhem. Masud blazes as a film-maker when mining emotion and fortunately there is just enough of that magic in My Pure Land to make it as engaging and entertaining as it is imperative.
My Pure Land is released on September 15th.