Film Review: Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Buda As Sharm Foru Rikkt)

Contender Films
Released on DVD 10 November 2008

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Baktay is a small girl with a seemingly small ambition: to go to school to “learn funny stories”. But, living in the network of mountainside caves, near the Afghan town of Bamian, adjoining the empty chasms that for nearly 1500 years, until their destruction by the Taliban in 2001, housed the giant Buddha statues, she is a tiny figure dwarfed by the magnitude of the natural and political landscape that surround her. The succession of obstacles that beset her serve to poignantly illustrate both how traditional everyday life manages, completely against the odds, to continue in the battle scarred country, but equally how deeply the conflict has scarred everyday lives.

This hits home resoundingly hard when Baktay is twice ‘arrested’ by a gang of feral boys. “We are the Taliban!” they proclaim, and adjudge her, as a girl going to school, to be an “heathen sinner”. Prior to a proposed stoning, with the shards of the Buddhas’ toenails, they incarcerate her in a cave with three other little girls. In an achingly affecting scene, their heads covered in paper bags with torn eye and mouth holes, their diminutiveness making the image ever more shocking, they share the reasons for their arrest: having beautiful eyes, wearing lipstick, and carrying a picture of a footballer from a chewing gum packet. Later in the film, the gang, now declaring themselves “American”, condemn Baktay’s statement that she is going home with “Die, bastard, terrorist, liar!”. The simplistic pronouncements of these proponents of double-think might be wryly viewed as childish, if they did not so starkly emulate adults at both extremes of the conflict.

But the film overrides this hope collapsing indictment of the damage done to a nation’s psyche, with the stirring message of positivity inherent in Baktay’s epic journey; if one little girl might achieve her ambition through wilfulness, resourcefulness, and a refusal to be cowed, what might a country achieve.

The remarkable nature of Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame is heightened by the fact that it is the first feature from 19 year old director Hana Makhmalbaf, and both the extraordinarily accomplished performances of her child actors, and sumptuous cinematography strengthen this elegiac plea for peace, compounded by Baktay’s plaintive statement: “I don’t like playing war.”

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