Rated PG-13. Time: 1:27.
The story of Malala Yousafzai has been widely reported, but it’s so intense and compelling that it bears repeating. The documentary “He Named Me Malala” is a testament to the courage of this Pakistani activist, the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2012, at age 15, Malala, already known as an advocate for women’s education in Muslim countries, was shot by a Taliban gunman and left in critical condition. The Taliban also announced its intention to kill her father, Ziauddin, an educator whose outspoken nature clearly served as a template for his daughter.
It was he who named her after Malalai of Maiwand, a Pashtun woman who heroically rallied her nation’s troops battling the British in 1880. A major figure in the movie, Ziauddin moved the family to England, where Malala had been taken for treatment. The family settled there, and we later see her trying to adjust to a British (non-Muslim) school, coping with regular teenage matters — struggling with her grades and trying to find her place.
Other domestic scenes — such as back-and-forth teasing with her brothers — offer a nice counterpoint to footage of her advocacy work, meeting President Barack Obama, appearing on TV shows around the world, speaking to the United Nations and writing a popular memoir, “I Am Malala.” We even get a glance at more personal matters: She appears to have a crush on Roger Federer.
Malala is an eminently worthy subject, but the film, directed by Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth,” “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ”) has a few issues. A major one is its frequent use of pastel-toned animated segments, offering background and telling the story of Malala’s namesake. These scenes begin to feel intrusive.
And while the film is clearly a testimonial, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we aren’t getting to Malala’s depths. She is personable, and, obviously, extremely brave, but it’s clear that the director felt he could only press her so far — Malala insists that we (and the film) respect her privacy.
So we’re left with some major questions (why does a movie with a feminist theme give short shrift to Malala’s mother?), and a wish that Guggenheim might have dug a bit deeper. “He Named Me Malala” gets good marks as a laudatory piece about a genuinely valiant young woman, but it could use a modest dose of objectivity.
(At Cinetopia, Palace, Rio.)
‘He Named Me Malala’
Rated PG-13. Time: 1:27.