Director Elham Ehsas showcases brilliance behind the camera with his short film Yellow. The actor, best known for roles in The Kite Runner and Homeland, has taken to directing short films over the past five years. After his short Our Kind of Love drew acclaim, he continued to strike while the iron is hot. Yellow builds on that momentum, proving to be visually stunning while connecting emotionally from its opening frames.

Yellow follows a young girl named Lali (Afsaneh Dehrouyeh) as she goes to purchase her first chadari. With the Taliban’s new laws enforcing women to wear them, this is the first time in Lali’s life that she’s been forced to wear them. At the store, she meets a young shopkeeper (Ehsas) who helps her purchase the veil.

 The two actors previously collaborated in Our Kind of Love, and they pick up their incredible chemistry. There’s a crackle that’s impossible to ignore. However, dropping them into this environment, what was once considered beautiful is now tragic. Under Taliban rule, these two young Afghans will not court the way they might have been five years earlier. Ehsas creates an air of loss that hangs over the short, making us question what might have been.

Dehrouyeh takes over the energy of the short, expertly delivering her multilingual dialogue and internal emotional turn. Her performance comes through her physicality and her eyes. We can read the fear she’s experiencing. Her palpable grief for her future relays the stakes. During a dance, we feel her attempt to find freedom in her movement under the chadari. Yet the restrictive purpose of the garment makes her limitations to grow and thrive apparent. Dehrouyeh pours her all into the role, and the audience cannot help but feel that power.

Ehsas’ choice to have the character speak multiple languages proves her education while also highlighting the men who will run this corner of the world do not have the same priorities. It’s a subtle hint that comes shining through the film. It also showcases Ehsas and Dehrouyeh’s ability to pull unique character aspects out in the quiet moments.

These interpersonal moments mean the world to Yellow, yet its visual language is just as impressive. Ehsas and DP Yiannis Manolopoulos focus on the claustrophobia of the world. While we begin the story in an open-air market, we follow Lali as she descends deeper and deeper into a tight store. That claustrophobia is literally manifested through the chadari, which loom over our characters like banshees. They top off their brilliant blocking and framing with one of the best final shots of any short in 2023. It’s a hammer stroke that drives home the tightening grip of conservative ideology, not only in Afghanistan but worldwide.

Ehsas creates a brilliant tale of a woman realizing her rights are being taken away piece by piece. While the story takes place in Afghanistan, it’s hard to imagine only those in Kabul can relate to this feeling. This makes Yellow an intimate examination of life in Afghanistan after a regime change, yet the universal themes ring true. The way to overcome darkness and racism is through building bridges, and Yellow helps us understand how our lives intersect.

What did you think of Yellow? Let us know in the comments below! Catch Yellow at Palm Spring Film Festival.

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