International Cosmetic Assistance, a Review of The Beauty Academy of Kabul

In Variety, Ronnie Scheib reviews Liz Mermin’s The Beauty Academy of Kabul.

In an act of “selfless service,” a group of American women, backed by industry giants like Clairol and Vogue, open a beauty school in war-ravaged Afghanistan in “Beauty Academy of Kabul.” The anomalies are manifold: Gun-toting soldiers patrolling the streets are visible through the windows as rookie beauticians busily snip, perm and tweeze. Although helmer Liz Mermin’s straight-faced adherence to her subject tends to diffuse the cultural dissonance the pic reveals, docu’s feminist optimism should still serve Wellspring well domestically, while pic retains enough absurdist contradictions to satisfy cynical European auds.

Mermin achieves an easy intimacy with students and instructors alike. Pic alternates between scenes in the elegant academy, where the mindsets of the teachers dominate, and visits to the home salons of their various Afghan students, most of whom have husbands and children, where quite another set of values holds sway.