A tale of bravery and defiance and almost unimaginable cruelty, the film “Saving Face” (7:30 p.m., HBO) just won the 2012 Oscar for best documentary short.
The film explores Pakistan’s dark history of angry men and their relatives who burn women’s faces, often with battery acid, as a means to punish a disobedient wife or to demean and destroy a woman who refuses a marriage proposal or sexual advances. Women as young as 12 come to the Acid Survivors Foundation, a special clinic in Islamabad.
Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a Pakistani-born plastic surgeon living in London, volunteers his time and services to help these women and give them back their pride, if not their lives. One woman seen here is so poor and desperate that she’s forced to live with the man who, along with his family, burned her with acid and set her on fire.
The Pakistan that is seen in “Saving Face” is like a 21st-century society with one foot stuck in the Middle Ages. But we also see growing ranks of female lawyers, doctors and politicians demanding legislation to toughen laws and enact stricter sentences for perpetrators of these grotesque crimes. The film’s main stories follow two victims through surgery and recuperation as well as the progress of anti-burning legislation through Pakistan’s parliament. We also meet accused perpetrators whose elaborate justifications, denials and excuses give new meaning to the phrase “the banality of evil.”
A short, poignant work, “Saving Face” barely penetrates the mentality that leads Pakistani men to such actions. Jawad explains that he offers up his work as a kind of expiation for a society that creates such monsters. But he freely admits that there is only so much he can do.
Tonight’s other highlights
• The first finalist goes home on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Liz hatches a new attention-getting scheme on “30 Rock” (7 p.m., NBC).
• The gang bids farewell to Tallahassee on “The Office” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Lost in a hurricane on “The Finder” (8 p.m., Fox).
• “Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror” (8 p.m., TLC) recalls the disasters that rocked the country in 2011 as captured by eyewitnesses and amateur photographers.
• Ricki Lake and Divine star in director John Waters’ 1988 period comedy “Hairspray” (8 p.m., Logo).