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Molly and Mobarak (2003)


Molly and Mobarak follows the emotional journey of Mobarak Tahiri, a young Hazara refugee from Afghanistan living on a Temporary Protection Visa, as he struggles to adjust to life in the regional NSW town of Young. Molly Rule and her mother Lyn provide friendship and support to Mobarak. The narrative centres on the interactions between the townspeople of Young and the Afghan community, through the characters of Molly and Mobarak respectively. Mobarak has escaped war, persecution and danger in his homeland, but his journey in Australia has only just begun.

Curator’s notes

Independent filmmaker Tom Zubrycki made Molly and Mobarak at a time when there was heated community debate about the treatment of and policies towards asylum seekers arriving in Australia, sparked by the Tampa incident in 2001. In the years that followed Tampa, a handful of local documentaries were produced which explored the human impact of Commonwealth policies on asylum seekers and refugees including Mike Piper’s Seeking Asylum (2002), Tahir Cambis’ Anthem: An Act of Sedition (2003) and Clara Law’s Letters to Ali (2004). Molly and Mobarak was perhaps the most widely screened and, along with Letters to Ali focused on themes of cultural isolation, uncertainty and psychological wellbeing through a single main character.

By giving voice to Mobarak – from a group who would otherwise be unable to access the media – and tackling contemporary political issues surrounding asylum seeker policy, Zubrycki continues in this film to follow his interest in people on the margins. Since the early 1990s many of his films have explored the social, cultural and psychological impacts of migration and displacement on refugees, and themes of identity and belonging – beginning with Homelands in 1993. Homelands followed Maria and Carlos Robles, refugees from El Salvador. But unlike Maria and Carlos whose dilemma is centred on whether they choose to go back to El Salvador, Mobarak may be forced to return to Afghanistan despite his belief he’ll be in danger if he does. The challenges Mobarak faces – living in a new culture, being accepted by a small regional community, rebuilding his life and falling in love – are further strained by his limbo status (see clip three).

Mobarak’s experience in Young is filled with hope and uncertainty, both in his personal life and more broadly as a refugee living on a Temporary Protection Visa. Zubrycki likes to choose personal points of flux as his dramatic focus, and this works to humanise the refugee experience through the character of Mobarak and his interactions with Molly and her mother Lyn especially. Many of the scenes take place in domestic spaces – Lyn’s kitchen, the Hazara’s living room, at driving lessons, in the backyard – and are framed in a combination of medium and close-up shots. This creates intimacy and builds an emotional connection with the audience.

The subjects speak directly to Zubrycki who captures some incredible moments. We see Mobarak’s transformation and growth most strongly through the relationship he forms with Molly and Lyn (see clip two). Mobarak falls in love with Molly, further complicating his emotional life as Molly has a boyfriend in another town. Molly’s mother Lyn takes Mobarak under her wing as though he were her son and her instincts to protect him inform some of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes. Mobarak’s feelings of isolation, loss and vulnerability are embraced by both women who play a key role in his transformation. By the end of the film, Mobarak has found love and happiness. The intimacy between the characters and the filmmaker is one of Zubrycki’s strengths and it delivers a compelling documentary.

Molly and Mobarak broke through some of the negative stereotypes of asylum seekers and refugees that were being communicated through the mainstream media at the time. Zubrycki has said in the past that the process of humanisation in film can be a political act when ‘people can identify with someone or a situation, it is then that they can gain insight, or an awareness of, the wider issues’ ('Australian Screen Education’ 2004, issue 33, p. 64). Molly and Mobarak is certainly a humanising film told with compassion. It also celebrates the compassion that exists within parts of the Australian community towards people like Mobarak Tahiri.