The Black Tulip


Conservatism clashes with modernity in The Black Tulip, Sonia Nassery Cole’s earnestly melodramatic Afghan drama about a family’s struggle against the Taliban. To honor her deceased father’s memory, Farishta (Cole) and her husband, Hadar (Haji Gul Aser), open a restaurant in 2010 where they promote freedom of expression through open-mic poetry and music. As Hadar fears, this draws the unwanted attention of a still-strong Taliban, who are soon murdering Farishta and Hadar’s relatives at weddings and kidnapping their daughter in an attempt to silence any supposed “blasphemy,” a narrative course that Cole charts with numerous flashbacks and a preference for overblown slow motion and hysterics. With every character speaking in blunt expository statements and every conflict mapped out in clear black-and-white terms, the action proves simplistic, though Cole does capture a convincing and inviting sense of contemporary Afghanistan, be it the atmosphere of constant fear and paranoia or the many customs and rituals that define daily life. There are good intentions here, but too little nuance, as epitomized by its movie-villain portrait of the Taliban, whose evil is inarguable, but whose menacing shifting of prayer beads here comes off as the Afghan equivalent of twirling mustaches.