REVIEW PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL: Buddha Collapsed out of Shame

The first feature film of Iranian filmmaker Hana Makhmalbaf, Buddha Collapsed out of Shame, is set in the Afghan town of Bamian. This is the place where the giant statues of Buddha that had been carved into the rock face centuries earlier were blown up by the Taliban in 2001. The rubble left by their destruction is the stark setting for the film.
REVIEW PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL: Buddha Collapsed out of Shame
The first feature film of Iranian filmmaker Hana Makhmalbaf, Buddha Collapsed out of Shame, is set in the Afghan town of Bamian. This is the place where the giant statues of Buddha that had been carved into the rock face centuries earlier were blown up by the Taliban in 2001. The rubble left by their destruction is the stark setting for the film. Of the films that I have reviewed thus far for the Festival, this is the one that I have enjoyed the most. It tells a child’s story in a manner that is respectful to the child’s world; not in a sugary sweet, lesson teaching, example setting, happy ending, or a smartass but aren’t they cute sort of a way, but in a manner which the audience recognizes as real. Bakhtay (Nikbakht Noruz) is a little girl of six who wants to go to school and encounters an array of difficulties on the way. These include a lack of interest from her mother, no money for a notebook or pen, not knowing where the school is, and being waylaid by a group of older boys playing Taliban. The boys arrest her, put a bag over her head, decide to stone her, then dig her grave and make her stand in it as they surround her, rocks in hand; and if she wasn’t genuinely scared, I was. Brave even when frightened, matter of fact and kind, Bakhtay was easy to care about. Little Nikbakht Noruz and all the child actors give totally convincing performances. The cinematography was exceptional in the way that I never thought about it apart from when there was a shot more outstanding than the rest. Two scenes especially remained in my mind. One, a paper boat floating rapidly down the river as Bakhtay walked beside it; and near the finish, a shot of the wheat harvest with the golden chaff flying in the air as the children watched from the margins. These moments have a beauty that only cinema ever captures. There was splendor also in the landscape; mountains of bare rock are obscured by billows of sand lifted by the gusting winds, and broken only by plummeting chasms. Trees or any type of plant are virtually nonexistent. It is hard to imagine where people living here get their food. We often talk about ‘the harsh Australian landscape’ but Afghanistan is something else. ‘In the name of God,’ was frequently added to speeches. While it seemed to mean nothing to anyone, it conveyed a sense of the everyday place which religious rhetoric holds in this country. And although this is a story about the Afghani people, who have become so used to violence that they find it unremarkable, its’ relevance is to western culture is clear. Buddha Collapsed out of Shame underlines the direct connection between what is going on between national, religious and other power groups, and how it is reflected in children’s behavior. But the most remarkable thing about this fine film is the filmmaker herself. Hana Makhmalbaf is an 18 year old Iranian girl, youngest member of a filmmaking family. ‘When my father was working, waves of different energies emerged around his films that enchanted me as well. I used to get excited over the words: sound, camera, action. There was a strange power in these three words,’ she says. Since the age of eight, Hana has been working in film as a script supervisor, still photographer and assistant director. She has also made behind-the-scene documentary films, including The Joy of Madness about her sister Samira Makhmalbaf directing the film At Five in the Afternoon (03). Hana continues, ‘As an 18 year old girl living in Iran under current conditions and having to bear with ideological, political and social pressures I have a lot to say.’ I hope she continues to say it. Somerville Theatre, UWA, Crawley WA 2 – 8 Mar, 8.30pm

Patricia Johnson

Wednesday 11 February, 2009

About the author

Patricia Johnson has a long standing interest in the arts and holds a Diploma in Creative Writing from Curtin University. Patricia has had several poems and short stories published. Currently she is also a reviewer for ArtsHub Australia.