Editor’s note: ‘I Was Worth 50 Sheep’ is streaming on PBS Video Player through September.
At 16, Sabere is trying to divorce her husband. Golmohammad beats her, she explains, and she’s had four miscarriages, at least one caused by an especially severe beating she describes in detail for I Was Worth 50 Sheep. At a safe house for women in Mazar, Afghanistan, she finds both sympathy and legal help.
As Nima Sarvestani’s documentary reveals, however, she also finds complications. First, she remains fearful of her husband, a Taliban in his 60s who killed his first two wives. And second, she’s at risk with her stepfather, Khalegh, who takes her in to live with her ten-year-old half-sister, Farzaneh. The haven he offers is dreadfully uncertain: “War is everywhere,” he says more than once, meaning that he can’t guarantee the safety of the girls living with him, that they may be sold for sheep if something happens to him. Moreover, Khalegh feels pressured to sell Farzaneh. When Sabere protests that the girl is too young to be married, he asks, “What can we do? He is violent.”
As they ponder options, the camera closely observes the girls and the adults around them. Whether Sabere is cooking or cleaning their dirt-floored-home, joking with her stepfather, meeting with the lawyer, or, in a couple of instances, listening to Khalegh try to cajole Golmohammad on the phone, she appears framed internally, again and again, by doors and windows or crooked arms. At once intimate and chilling, the film offers an intricate look at the profound difficulties of Sabere’s life, never reducing any of her choices or her essential self-awareness.