BUDDHA COLLAPSED OUT OF SHAME

Catch this one on limited release from Friday 25th July 2008! OK, so this might not be the kind of review you're used to at OWF but I'm determined to keep our obsession broad and not just focus on the Hollywood blockbusters that so frequently dominate independent movie sites. Although I have to admit that I might've gone a little too obscure with this one! The catchily titled Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame is the first feature film from Hana Makhmalbaf, daughter of award-winning Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. At the tender young age of 19 some might suspect Hana's work of being a little lightweight, trite or just immature. Thankfully it is none of those things, but it is a somewhat clunky political commentary that leaves intellectual and emotional nuance to one side as it attempts to drum its point home. Set in Bamian, Afghanistan, with the rubble of the buddha statue blown up by the Taliban in 2001 as its backdrop Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame is a damning critique of the impossible situation facing women in Afghanistan today. Like her father before her, Hana Makhmalbaf is showing a penchant for the use of children too and this is the unique twist that makes this film more than just another political commentary like the thousands of others desensitizing us in bitesize news chunks every day. The central character is six year-old Bakhtay who decides one day that, like her young male friend, she wants to go to school. Setting out with a naive belief that anything is possible she faces all kinds of obstacles to achieve her goal, each of which forms part of a rich allegorical tapestry of the ingrained societal bias that so cruelly hampers the lives of thousands of Afghan women. The simplicity of the tale works very strongly in its favour. Crude camera and sound work combine with the rugged uncompromising Afghan terrain inhabited by Bakhtay (she literally lives in a cave) to create the combined sensation that the situation she is in is painfully obvious, but also that the fight against it is an arduous and largely futile struggle. Scenes such as the 10 minute episode where Bakhtay attempts to sell two eggs in the market can't help but stay in the mind as emblazoned images of the struggle faced by so many women in Afghanistan, and the poverty and indifference that surrounds her just shows the inability of society to come to her aid. However, at certain points the film seems to lose this pure and uncomplicated essence that works so well with the youthful denizens of this story that could almost be straight out of a kids book. One particular example which really changed the tone for me was a group of boys playing with 'guns' (a combination of big sticks and imaginations) who capture girls who wear make-up like whores or fail to obey their commands. Not only was their portrayal of the taliban in a game a damning observation of the state of childhood in this war-ravaged middle-eastern country, but the sudden switches within the group between whether they were acting as Taliban fighting the hated Americans or vice-versa suggested just how much these battles infused the lives of the innocent children of this country. Nonetheless, it heavily detracted from the core narrative by providing a lengthy digression as well as an obviously layered allegory designed to hold a deeper political commentary that is, to a large extent, different to that on which the tale was meant to focus. In a similar vain, as the film progresses is develops a penchant for long, dreamy shots of abstract images which completely wrench the viewer from the engagement with this brutally real scenario of simplicity that drew so effectively on the worthy historical precedent of Italian neo-realism. This is a moving and worthy story that cleverly makes some valid points about the struggles faced by women in Afghanistan, but sadly its thematic and visual traits are somewhat inconsistent and its frequent meanderings indicate a little too clearly that this idea would have been better confined to a short film. Stretching it to feature length was a sad detraction from a clever and emotionally effective story.

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Michael J Edwards hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.