REVIEW: DVD Release: Buddha Collapsed Out Of Shame

Film: Buddha Collapsed Out Of Shame
Release date: 10th November 2008
Certificate: PG
Running time: 73 mins
Director: Hana Makhmalbaf
Starring: Abbas Alijome, Abdolali Hoseinali, Nikbakht Noruz
Genre: Drama
Studio: Contender
Format: DVD
Country: Iran

Buddha Collapsed Out Of Shame is the first feature length film by Hana Makmalbaf, daughter of director Mohsen Makmalbaf, and the youngest member of his illustrious film dynasty. While themes such as children and education is not a first for those already familiar with Iranian cinema (for example, 1997’s The Apple by Samira Makmalbaf, Hana’s older sister), Buddha Collapsed Out Of Shame is still an impressive debut for the then 19 year-old filmmaker.

The film is set post-9/11 in Bamyam, a mountainous and remote area of central Afghanistan. It is also the site of the ancient Buddha statues, carved into the mountain cliffs, which the Taliban destroyed in March 2001.

News footage of the statues being blown up is shown at the beginning and end of the film, and the looming backdrop of the empty Buddha-shaped holes act as a constant reminder of the regime and its influence in this region.

The protagonist is a young girl named Baktay, and the film follows her as she tries to go to school, so that she too can learn the “funny stories” her friends are always reciting.

Baktay’s journey appears simple enough at first; her neighbour, a boy named Abbas, tells her that all she needs is a notebook and a pencil to attend school. Armed with four eggs, she heads off to the market to sell them for money. However, in the busy square no one wants to buy her eggs, and some of them get broken along the way. Eventually, having earned only 10 rupees, she settles for just a notebook and takes her mother’s lipstick to use as a pencil. The child’s quest for knowledge and education appears futile in an environment so poor that even the simplest items such as pen and paper become prized possessions…

One of the most disturbing and symbolic sequences of the film occurs when Baktay is on her way to the girl’s school, and encounters a group of boys ‘playing’ at being Taliban. The boys bully her using machine-guns fashioned out of sticks, and in a sinister twist, decide to play a ‘stoning’ game, punishing her for being sinful. They force her into a hole in the ground, and surround her with rocks poised in their hands. As Baktay begins to cry, protesting that she doesn’t want to play anymore, the boys grow more menacing, humiliating and taunting her. An innocent child’s game soon turns into a chilling depiction of female victimisation, and a brutal critique of the Taliban regime. In addition, it also shows how easily such violent practises are passed down and ingrained into the language and mind-set of the next generation. What other games can children play if all that surrounds them is war and conflict?

The choice to use child actors is as much an artistic decision as it is out of necessity. For Iranian filmmakers, censorship boards are so tight that it is difficult to film anything, especially if it involves women, without having the film banned altogether. One way for filmmakers to circumvent these restrictions is to use child actors (see 1995’s The White Balloon or 1997’s The Mirror), so that it is difficult to accuse the films of being decadent or promiscuous. Thus, the films automatically take on a more allegorical tone, forced to conceal their messages in the subtext.

The film’s pace maybe slow for some viewers, as it only spans across the events of a single day. But what the film lacks in action and pace, it makes up for by providing a fascinating glimpse into a way of life completely alien to most Western audiences. The image of a little girl in a yellow headscarf and bright green salwar kameez, scrambling across the top of a dusty, perilous mountain ledge just to reach her home is extremely striking. Moreover, the scenes of everyday life in rural Afghanistan are also absorbing to watch, such as making bread in a tandoor oven and threshing hay by hand. The fact that all the child actors were cast from local schools around Bamyam adds to the air of authenticity. In this sense, the film speaks more as a work of documentary than fiction. The fact that a film could even be made in a country where only years before all cinemas, television and other forms of entertainment had been banned is a testament itself.

Buddha Collapsed Out Of Shame is an accomplished debut from a young filmmaker that addresses many problems surrounding the rebuilding of Afghanistan. While some might say it lacks the bravery to tackle these problems head on by using veiled allegories and metaphors, the force of its unflinching message cannot be questioned. KW

1 comment:

  1. i saw this film n bbc 4 i think a few months ago now and was blown away. the kid actors in it are amazing, especially the little girl who puts in a wonderfully moving performance. simple yet oh so powerful