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He Named Me Malala
Davis Guggenheim's inspirational documentary is not just a glowing tribute to 18-year-old Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who famously survived an assassination attempt by Taliban gun men. He Named Me Malala is also a deeply touching story of a proud father and daughter, who have drawn strength from each other in times of unimaginable pain and adversity. Many images in Guggenheim's film stir the soul, not least Jason Carpenter's gorgeous animated sequences which bookmark this affectionate biography. However, what lingers longest are fly-on-the-wall footage of Malala and her father Ziauddin, walking hand-in-hand through a media scrum or nestled together, exhausted, in adjacent seats on an airplane. "We became dependent on each other, like one soul in two bodies," explains the patriarch, who established a chain of schools and raised his daughter in an environment of wonder and learning. This bond of unerring faith between two people, who have defied the Taliban and could pay with their lives if they return home to Pakistan, provides the film with its emotional core. Guggenheim's cameras are granted unprecedented access to the family and there are lovely sequences of Malala bickering with her brothers Khushal and Atal at their home in Birmingham, explaining to the youngest boy that she occasionally slaps him out of sisterly affection. The siblings are cheeky scamps and tease Malala about her crushes on famous cricket players and Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. She giggles when the director probes a little deeper about boys she likes and nervously dodges the question. In these everyday domestic scenes, in which Malala's mother Toor Pekai makes fleeting appearances, we're reminded that she is still a teenager, prone to the usual growing pains and the pressure to pass her examinations. Away from the West Midlands, the film joins Malala and Ziauddin as they fly around the world, spreading her message of education and equality. The attack, which brought her to worldwide attention, casts a shadow over each rousing speech and awards ceremony, and Guggenheim waits until the film's second half to deliver the emotional sucker punch of Malala reminiscing about the shooting with classmates Kainat and Shazia. A single photograph of their blood-spattered school bus brings home the carnage with horrifying clarity. Her recuperation and rehabilitation at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham once again emphasises the bond between child and parent. "When she woke up, her first question was: where's my father?" recalls a British nurse of the moment that Malala regained consciousness after hours in a critical condition. "It's so hard to get things done in this world. But you have to try and never give up," muses the teenager at one point. He Named Me Malala is a cri de coeur for us all to follow suit.