SOME FILMS SEEK to thrill, to be a fun way to spend an hour and a half. Some seek to be expressive, to convey or encourage a certain emotion, be it laughter or sadness. Others seek to provoke thought, be that about deep philosophical issues or about how we live our day-to-day lives. And some seek to inform, to bring our attention to some real issue that may be too often ignored or dismissed.
Dry is certainly in the last category, while also trying to occupy the penultimate category, and asking questions about tradition, government priorities, victim blaming, and men exerting control over women’s bodies. Dry is successful in a way no documentary could be. As I mentioned in my review of Suffragette, it is possible to be aware of an issue or event, without quite understanding the impact and emotional weight of it. This often causes us to minimise the issue in our minds, and not pay due attention to it.
Dry, based on a true story, follows Dr. Zara Robinson (Stephanie Linus), a doctor living in Aberystwyth, as she travels to Nigeria after discovering that her daughter is not dead, as she had been led to believe. In so doing, she becomes involved in the struggle to provide basic medical treatment to impoverished communities, in particular performing surgeries to correct fistula, as well as confronting her own childhood trauma.
This is very much where the films attempt to draw attention to the issues of violence against women, forced marriage, and inadequate medical care, particularly when it comes to fistula. Fistula, in particular vesico vaginal fistula, is a condition in which a passageway forms between the bladder and the vagina, causing a person to be incapable of controlling the flow of fluid. It is also very much treatable, and in fact the procedure to resolve fistula was first pioneered by Dr. James Marion Sims, a man often referred to as the father of modern gynaecology, in 1849. Fistula can be caused by a number of things, but one common cause is trauma due to giving birth at a young age and without proper medical care. This is what makes it such a good focus for this film. It is the intersection of inadequate medical care, toxic traditions and violence and neglect against women.
Dry gets its points across successfully and emotionally, drawing attention to the personal tragedies these problems can lead to. The dialogue can be a little clunky in places, particularly at the beginning, but once the film gets going the quality of the writing increases as the focus shifts to those issues the writers were clearly passionate about addressing. The early scenes still have a significant amount to contribute, making it clear that the issues of men exerting control over women bodies are not entirely isolated to Nigeria.
A small warning for those who may find it useful; Dry contains multiple scenes of sexual assault and child abuse. Fortunately the camera cuts away quickly, but what what we do see is hard to watch. Unfortunately I don’t think it would have been possible to address these topics and tell this story without including these scenes.
I would very much encourage you to go see Dry if you can. It does an excellent job of conveying the weight of these issues, which all too often we know about but don’t perceive as a large problem.