Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
One of the women in "Saving Face" looks as if half her face has melted. Her lips are twisted and distorted, her left eye socket so damaged it cannot accept a glass eye, her throat a mass of scars. We follow her through a series of plastic surgeries performed by Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a Pakistani doctor from London who volunteers his time. He is able to make the lips seem more normal, and to cover some of the damaged facial area with a synthetic skin substitute. It no longer looks melted, but now seems rubbed flat of its features.
Another woman says her husband threw acid onto her face, and then her sister-in-law threw gasoline on her and her mother-in-law set her afire. They locked her into a room, intending her to die. The husband was arrested, and looks straight into the camera while saying his wife set herself on fire. If you look at the women in the burn unit of the Islamabad hospital, he claims, you'll find that most of the women there set themselves on fire, or threw acid at themselves.
Dr. Jawad, a large, affable man, enlists a colleague from Dubai to construct a prosthesis for the woman without an eye socket. He confides that he can barely endure listening to the stories he is forced to hear. When he learned about the acid attacks in London, he says, he felt obligated to return to his homeland and volunteer his surgical skills to mend the faces and the lives of women who in some cases feel unable to step outside the door.
This film, which won the 2012 Academy Award for best short documentary, is only 40 minutes long. It has the impact of an epic. Instead of giving us outraged speeches, it takes a realistic, level-headed view of the people involved, and of the surgical process. It follows the efforts of a woman member of Parliament to introduce a bill establishing life sentences for those guilty of acid attacks, and it passes unanimously.