Titanic 2016: Women’s Power

Nicole Nielsen Horanyi’s documentary Motley’s Law follows an extremely realistic, strong and powerful woman, Kimberley Motley. She is an American litigator since 2003 and practising law in Afghanistan since 2008. She started her journey to earn more money but soon it became something more to her: a passion, a lifestyle, and even a mission.

Afghanistan is a country that was an artistically and culturally diverse state before 1970, and it surely surprises you and gives you a large amount of material to work on – especially if you’re a journalist or a film-maker. Afghanistan might be a dangerous state to go and stay, but it’s also a place where one might find her/his path – even if she/he wants it or not. That is what happened to Kimberley Motley. She’s not ashamed of admitting that she took on the job and resided in the Middle East to earn more money, since they (she and her husband) are still paying their student loan. But one question emerges: Is it worth living and working far away from your family in a war zone where your life is always at stake?

Kimberley Motley is aware of the danger she’s constantly in but she doesn’t allow it take over. Her realistic approach lets her see the world and the environment surrounding her as clearly as possible. Her driving forces are her inner strength, hatred for injustice, and passion for law and her family. Her personality carries all the features a lawyer should. She’s demanding, pushy if it’s needed, and never gives up who she is. This is a key factor in both her working and private life, and the film tries to present the balance between these two. But is it possible?

Danish director Nicole Nielsen Horanyi seems to aim at destroying stereotypes and showing a portrait of a woman who “can have it all”. It is fairly uncertain what Horanyi’s real goal was, though. The film title has its own ambiguity as well: while Motley’s law suggests the Americans profession lays in focus, it also gives the impression that her entire persona is discussed. While the first argument is supported by the fact that most of the time her life in Afghanistan is being pictured, the second argument is backed up by scenes shot with her family at home as well as the interviews given during her stay in the Middle East.

Dichotomy undeniably characterises the entire film. Kimberley divides her time between work and family. In addition to that, she works for money and also gives free legal advice mainly women and children. “Human rights work does not pay the bills”, says Kimberley. This sentence can be regarded as a proof of her realistic personality.

Motley’s Law belongs to that group of films that stand out because of the courage it represents. Not only the main female character might be a role model, but also the director herself. From a cinematic point of view it might be not that powerful, since the effect of the images are more often softened by the text written on the screen, and the tension frequently is dismissed before it should strike, but this can be easily forgotten thanks to the sound designer Kristian Eidnes Andersen. Andersen, who often works with Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, proves his ability and skills once again.


Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.