Summer 1998 – Kabul under Taliban rule. Zunaira and Mohsen are young and in love. Despite the daily violence and misery, they hope for a better future. One day, a foolish gesture causes life to take an irrevocable turn.

Les Hirondelles De Kaboul

Kabul – Afghanistan, under Taliban rule

THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL

Zunaira! Turn your music down!

It’s too loud!

– You’ll get us into…
– Sorry, Nastaran! Thank you.

Coming, Atiq, or staying to rot in your dungeon?

My leg hurts, Qassim.

It’s cool here.

I’ll go later.

As you like.
You’ll shrivel up here.

No sleeves rolled above the elbow!

Quick, quick!

Wait for me!

Some people have chosen to splash in the mire like pigs.

And yet they knew the Message, learnt about temptation, but didn’t develop enough faith to resist it.

These miserable, blind frivolous beings prefer one instant of debauchery, fleeting and pathetic, to the eternal gardens.

All?hu akbar!

What can we say, apart from our grief and indignation?

This woman knew very well what she was doing.

Drunk on fornication, she strayed from the Lord’s path.

Now He’s the one to turn his back on her.

She deserves neither mercy not pity from believers.

She’s going to die in disgrace, as she lived.

All?hu akbar!

They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieve so you would be alike.

They turn away from Allah!

Seize them, kill them, wherever you find them!

Hey, Atiq!

Over here!

For you and Mussarat.
It’s nice and ripe.

Pass! Pass!

Go on, he’s Zidane!

I’m not marked!

– Hi Mohsen!
– Hi Mohsen!

I’m not marked. Go on, shoot!

Kurosh gave us this.

Thank you, Atiq.

Sit down, you must be tired.

Ask your sister over for lunch with the children.

I’d like to see them.

We can’t have guests here.

Worse than the jail.

Thank you.

You’re tormented because of me.

Nonsense, woman!

You’re unwell. You just have to rest.

I feel as though I’m failing in my duties as a wife.

My husband doesn’t talk to me.

That’s because I’m destroyed by this endless war, the misery spreading around us.

How can I take care of other’s misery when I can’t even deal with mine?

I don’t get it.

If you have faith in God you must see the misfortune I bring you as a test.

You aren’t a misfortune!

I do have faith!

My silence isn’t rejection, it’s because I’m helpless.

I don’t have to justify myself.

As if I’d done wrong. I haven’t!

Can’t I have some peace in my own house?

Is it too much to ask?

Forgive me.

But you’re all I have.

When you blame me, the world turns its back.

I’d give everything I have for you.

Today, I forbade myself to upset you.

And yet I have.

Why, eh? Why?

I’m scared, Atiq.

This time I can tell this thing eating away at me won’t leave without me.

What exactly did the doctor say?

Again!

Mohsen Ramat.

Where were you, you traitor?

I ate alone, with no chick peas.

The chick peas…

Sorry, I forgot.

I wasn’t feeling too good.

I had a walk.

Boiling hot, and odd.

Lie down, you look dead.

– Go on!
– Zunaira,

look at me.

Have I changed?

Let’s have a look… not really.

Let’s see.

Now you say so, mind…

Stop it.

Am I different?

Yes.

Different from the others, my love.

And I’ve loved you for that since university.

And I’ll love you for it far into the future, when we’re free.

When you’ll teach history and me, drawing.

And we’ll be immortal.

In that future, we’ll have a real house.

We’ll listen to loud music.

We’ll kiss in the street.

We’ll laugh about the bad films we’ve seen.

We’ll eat ice cream with little Mohsen and little Zunaira and we’ll fool around and dance because we’re unique and different.

I believe it.

Hear me? I do.

Are your feet clean?

There. Now you’re bearable.

He’s ill! He’ll die!

Let me see the doctor, please!

Move it!

Out of the way!

Please!

Please! He’ll die!

I need a form.

Come with me.

Come back later.

I’ll examine her.

– Hello, Mohsen.
– Hello, Uncle.

Come in!

No, thanks.

I just wanted to ask after my nephew.

Is Zahir Asghar back?

He owes me money.

Mohsen, you know, he’s gone.
Really gone.

With the money.

You’ll get a postcard, if he’s alive.

Come in and have tea. You look dead.

No, thanks.

Take care.

Atiq! Brother. Come here.

Here.

All right?

You shut shop early.

No more prisoners?

The condemned wing is completely empty.

Last one was stoned yesterday.

The whore.

Barbarous, those ceremonies.
And long.

They should shoot them.

Hey, warder, you’ve got a face on you!

Lots of worries.

You know, when it was the Russians I was much less anxious.

You knew who the enemy was.

Now, I don’t know.

Ah, I was a good leader!

Come more often for a chat, like we used to.

Hey, does that lost look cover a coup you’re brewing?

Don’t say things like that, Mirza!

The walls have ears.

Hey, Atiq, it’s me.

Your childhood friend, right?

That was before.

So what’s changed, really?

Same weapons, same faces.

Same dogs, same caravans.

Wisdom is taking things as they come.

Get that.

You just don’t know what you want.

Come on, if we’re still friends, tell me what’s up.

My wife is very ill and the doctor says there’s no cure.

That’s it.

That’s God’s will.

She’s my wife!

She gave me everything.

Only I can help her now. But I…

All on my own, I can’t cope.

Repudiate her.

She saved my life!

Nonsense, only God has that power.

God wanted her to care for you.

You’ve done much more.

You married her, a worn-out spinster.

Without you, she’s nothing much.

No man owes anything to a woman.

The problem is that misunderstanding.

Throw her out.

Find a nice, healthy virgin and have kids.

Your life could be so much better.

You know my tricks.

Just carrying weapons and drugs for the Taliban.

It’s good, easy money.

You’re your own worst enemy, Atiq.

So stop complaining.

Because of a female!

Offending God and His Prophet.

More…

A virgin, with this leg?

A lame husband?

If it’s not your leg, it’s your wife!

You need to go towards the light, now.

Mohsen Ramat, is that you?

Professor Arash Bayazid, hello.

I’m sorry if I scared you.

I’ve never seen you here.

– Have you been away?
– You’re joking.

No one can leave this country.

I rarely come here. Much sadness.

But I find papers and books.

– I still teach.
– At the Koranic school?

Yes.

Among others.

I’d love to teach, but… not at the Koranic school.

The history is false.

I can’t indoctrinate young children…

Mohsen!

There’s another school.

– Really?
– A secret one, where we teach children literature, art, and history: the truth.

We need brave, cultured people like you.

The Koranic school pays, but you serve the school of life.

I don’t know. I…

We’d like to leave.

Ask her to come and teach too!

I understand you desire freedom, but is it not better to stay here and fight for our true values, for this battered country, by saving its children?

Does she still paint?

Less… Less.

Of course.

Less…

– Sit down.
– No.

Thank you.

I saw your wife.

It won’t be long.

The cancer’s spread fast.

All we can do is give her morphine.

A strong dose, to relieve her pain.

She can’t move much.
She should stay here.

Or take some morphine patches, like last month.

No, I’d rather she stay here.

Very well.

Come and tell her.

She left with some neighbors.

Neighbors?

Neighbors.

I didn’t get the money back.

I don’t know what we’ll do.

Sell the tape player.
It’ll fetch a good price.

Not your music!

Is it the money that bothers you?

Look at me.

I have a confession.

I…

I met…

Arash at the university.

Looking for history books.

He still teaches.

He asked how we were, I said fine.

He asked me to teach with him, and even you…

That’s wonderful!
I loved our meetings at his house.

You should accept.

It’s not only for the Koranic school.

He seems to have set up a secret education system.

It’s dangerous.

Accept, my love. That’s even better.

A godsend!
Imagine, teaching children to be free.

A wonderful new teacher to teach them about life, love and humanity.

They’re the ones who’ll set us free one day.

We must live.

I so wish we could go and visit Faryel bookshop, like before.

Hand in hand, browsing…

Shall we go?

I’ll have to ask for Nastaran’s old burqa again.

And no holding hands.

Ask her, please.

Fight from inside, you say.

You don’t have to wear it!

For you I would.

The ground was roughly like this.

A mountain here, a cliff there and two hills over here.

We’d been surrounded by the Soviets for two days.

They shot at us as soon as we moved, like rabbits.

We were stuck with no ammunition, nothing to eat.

We couldn’t even bury our dead who were starting to stink.

Our dead never smelled bad.

I remember the shell that took my legs off and killed 14 mujahideen.

They never rotted.

They might have been asleep.

– Was it in winter?
– No, it was summer.

Maybe they were saints.

All mujahideen are blessed by the Lord and they never stink.

Hey, Atiq!

You were there, tell him our dead stank like others.

I know they don’t stink.

Let me finish my story!

I just wanted to say our dead don’t smell.

He didn’t even lose his eye in combat…

I heard that!

I’m one-eyed but not deaf!

– White shoes?
– So what?

It’s forbidden.

You can hardly see my feet.

I’m so thirsty! It’s stifling in here.

Wait a sec.

Little girl!

Here.

Hey, Aunty, can I play with Samir?

I’m not your aunty, love.

It’s her tchador.

I’m Zunaira, her neighbor.

Oh, okay.

Well? I’m thirsty.

Here, I’ll help you.

– No!
– Hold still.

That’s my nose!

– Concentrate!
– This is silly.

Hang on.

It’s all over me!

– Stop.
– Wait. Please.

– Let me do it.
– Let ME do it.

That’s forbidden! Stop!

Get to the mosque for the sermon!

Put you straight.

I have to take my wife…

Against the wall!

And take off those white shoes!

From Jakarta to Jericho, Dakar to Mexico, Khartoum to Sao Paolo and Tunis to Chicago, the triumphant clamour of the minarets…

There’s no more doubt: the good word rings out round the world.

Muslims are gathering their strength and their deepest convictions.

There will be only one language on Earth, one rule of law and a single order: this one!

The West is dead. It no longer exists.

That simpleton’s model has failed.

And what was it?

What exactly does it think is emancipating?

The immoral societies it has set up…

…then get rid of them without notice.

They have not right to the Lord’s mercy nor our pity.

Nothing will get in our way.

I hate them!
I wish those monsters the worst!

I hate them for making me hate and want to kill!

– Forgive me.
– Leave me alone!

– We shouldn’t have…
– Leave me!

I need to breathe. Alone.

– Don’t push me away.
– Stop! Out of the way!

Today, I hate all men.

You’re like them.

Like them, yes.

You’ve no idea.

I’m abominable.
I threw a stone at that woman.

Don’t know why.

It just happened.

My arm did it.

And I just watched that foul act.

Can you ever forgive me?

You’re more and more alone.

You’re your own jailer and your own prisoner.

Here, have some fruit, Atiq.

How ironic.

Having survived 20 years of air raids, ambushes, explosive devices, the battles, and now being stuck between a prison for condemned women and a dying wife.

I don’t understand women.

They trust God, when they’re the first victims of this regime, which claims to be guided by the Prophet.

Even the ones in my family have become radicalised.

They drove me out because I don’t go to the mosque.

We’re done for.

The Taliban are destroying us.

I’m going to leave.

I’ve decided.

You always say that but you’re here.

As a mullah you were listened to.

But now you walk around talking to yourself and no one hears you any more, Nazish!

Don’t you think I’ll leave Kabul one day?

You’ll leave, you old madman, but feet first.

Old madman!

What’s up, brother?

– Stop crying.
– I’m a monster.

Up you get. Are you a man?

I’m nothing.
My wife won’t have me.

It’s about a woman?

An exceptional woman.

She’s beautiful, talented, gentle…

Be quiet!
No man owes anything to a woman.

God made them too, didn’t He?

She makes me a better person.

Go and pray.

That’s nonsense.

Stop hiding like that.

I should be hiding my face in shame, not you.

Talk to me.

Talk to me, shout at me, tell me you hate me, but not this!

Not silence.

Please, not silence.

A women cannot repudiate her husband but she can stay silent.

Let me see you.

Give me a chance.

Show your face, please.

Stop begging.

Know what you can do?

Ask the Taliban not to make me wear this shameful shroud!

Your face is my only sun.

No sun can resist the night.

That’s absurd.

Take it off.

– Take it off.
– Stop it.

– Stop it!
– Please.

– Stop.
– Listen to me.

– Stop it!
– Listen.

– Leave me alone!
– Calm down!

Leave me!

Mohsen?

Give it back!

Stop it! Give it back!

Stop it!

Hey! Still on the job?

Hoping for a medal?

Here’s a nice, brand new one.

It’s a good day, brother.

The Mahsud troops will be ambushed and Kabul’s sending back-up.

Have you heard from Qaab lately?

What do you mean?
Is he still dead? Seems so.

We buried him over two years ago!

Stay in the shade, you’re too hot.

Want to know what your prisoner did?

Killed her husband.

Why are you here?

You can’t be alone with her.

Scarf back on!

I have to repair the stone that’s come loose.

Leave me be.

Here.

Here, your morphine.

Come and eat, Atiq.

You cooked.

I’m happy to see you and eat with you.

So has it been a good day?

Not too much pain?

I went and got fruit, see?

And I tidied up.

I can’t eat.

Is it not nice?

I can’t eat.

The new prisoner took off her burqa.

In front of me.

– Did you talk to her?
– No.

No, I’m not allowed to, even with it on.

Only women guards can go near.

It shouldn’t have happened.

Why?

You know Sharia law.

Why do you say that?

Khorsan, where can I find Qassim?

Atiq! Come over here.

I know.

Stop!

What’s he here for?

Atiq’s here.

Atiq!

Here you are at last!

I didn’t know you visit Mirza’s!

Be nice to my friend Atiq.

Not easy.

No, I never come here.

Qassim, I need to talk to you.
About the prisoner.

A problem?

No, I just wanted to know what she did.

Why she must die.

You came here for that?
I told you what she did.

The judge wanted to execute her then.
It’s the stadium instead.

What did she do?

Was she beaten?

What do you care, warder?

Off you go.

You’re spoiling my evening.

– Sorry, Qassim.
– Get lost!

I’ll go, then.

I…

I’ll… go.

Going to see the prisoner?

Who lived here?

The lady killed her husband.
She’s in prison!

She took a plane to Hollywood!

My love!

Do you know anything about the woman they took away?

I told them when they arrested her.

They had a fight.

They were a nice couple.
There was an accident.

I want no trouble, but the woman took my wife’s burqa.

Can we get it back?

An accident?

It’s sad. Zunaira’s sweet.

Are you family?

Sort of, yes.

I’m Atiq Shaukat, the women’s prison warder, and I think there’s a mistake.

A…?

The woman sentenced to death is indeed guilty of killing her husband but apparently it was an accident.

– Her neighbours say…
– Which?

Ours say she’s guilty.

She herself said she did it.
Be off and stop doubting our verdicts.

Your sleeves.

This time we’ll have the executions just before the match so people stay.

The VIP corner must be out of the sun.

The Pakistanis are fussy.

Everything must be perfect.

– Of course.
– Qassim!

Need anything else?

Water.

An irreparable accident.

I lost the love of my life.

Why’d you go to the judge?

Why that prisoner?

I warn you, there are VIPs at the ceremony.

She’s the only woman, so obey.

Son of a dog.

Park here.

Take your Kalash and watch the prison door.

No one comes out.
I don’t trust Atiq.

If in doubt, fire.

…the shell fell right on target.

Right time, right place.

Boom!

I saw a geyser of fire and earth take hold of me, and that was it.

A fairytale vision.

The Angel of Death.

Go and play elsewhere!

– What?
– I just brought this for Atiq.

He’s tired.

Did you come alone? It’s forbidden.

How are you?

Bad. It won’t be much longer.

I just wanted to give him this, rest, and leave.

He isn’t here.
No waiting inside.

I can’t walk far. Please.

Here.

– Fruit for you and your family.
– Give that.

I shouldn’t let you in.

– I’ll turn a blind eye.
– Thank you.

Forgive me, old madman, I’m worried.

And tired.

I’m glad you’re here.

I can only talk to you.

Think we’ll ever hear music again in Kabul?

I don’t know.

What’s up?

Is it your wife?

Not, it’s not my wife.

Your job at the prison?

There’s a new prisoner.

So what?

So…

Beware, Atiq.

Too many questions drive you mad.

Better to run away.

Come with me while there’s still time.

To be free.

You’re late again.

Can’t be trusted.

I’m sorry.

Qassim wants you to watch the courtyard wall.

Strange movements, apparently.

I dunno.

The executions must go well.

Leave! Quickly!

The front door.
Head for the mountains.

Get yourself far away.

Listen!

Listen to me.

It’s a chance to leave this mad place.

Take your burqa and go!

Why are you…?

No questions I beg you, just go!

Here.

Come on.

What do you want?

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Take back your freedom.

They’ll kill you, Zunaira.

They’ll kill you.

Aren’t we all already long dead?

You have to live!

Live!

Where were you? No one’s watching!

In the courtyard.

Stay at your posts!

She refused to leave.

I opened her door.

She refused to go.

Would you have let her and not gone with her?

Yes!

The plans are going well.

Do you know her?

No need, they’re all the same.

Will it be full?

Yeah, should be nice executions.

They aren’t cooked.

What are you doing, my friend?

What are you doing?

And you? Still here.

I’m old.

I’m tired.

I’m trying to do what’s right.

If I left what would change?

I love this land, I love these people, and I think maybe it’s better to fight to save young people.

Go on home. I’ll keep watch tonight.

Off you go.

It’s me, Atiq.

Why are you here?

A miracle happened, Atiq.

I saw tears fall from your eyes.

And I thought, if what I saw is true,

then all is not lost.

You, crying?

Even when I took shrapnel out of your flesh you didn’t let out a single cry.

For a long time I got used to the idea your heart was fossilised.

Nothing could shake your soul or allow you to dream.

War is a monstrosity and its children are like it.

And last night my own eyes saw the man I thought to be a lost cause hold his head in his hands and weep.

It was proof a spark of humanity still remains.

I came to blow on it until it becomes bigger than the day.

I’ve failed to give your life meaning.

When you held me, your arms were looking for someone they never found.

I was just the nurse who had tended to you and kept you safe and who you’d married out of gratitude.

Now, seeing tears gushing from your eyes,

I see the sky opening onto the loveliest thing it has.

And I think that the woman who can cause such a huge change must not die.

It’s too late.

That’s nonsense.

They’re coming.

Find Aslam!

He must be asleep in a hole.

It’s time!

Come along.

Where’s Aslam?

Come with her.

I can’t, Aslam. I must go with Mussarat.

– Please.
– It’s an order!

Mussarat can come with the women.

Mussarat!

Come on.

I can’t find him.

I’ll have that numbskull whipped.

In losing his faith he lost his soul and we won’t help him get either of them back.

Be happy, my love.

Atiq!

See, you were wrong.

It was you who left first.

Hello, Professor.

Come in.