Flashback review #5: 'Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame'

This one is a rather special kind of flashback review, since this is not from my old blog, but instead what I exactly had to do during my Diploma in Creative Technology (Artistic Writing) days; I had to review Hana Makhmalbaf's Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame after viewing it at a local cinema during a special international film screening period as a required for the Genre Studies subject on the third semester in 2010. So please mind the oh-so-very formal tone of this one. Contains spoilers, so be wary. Also slightly edited, grammar-wise.

Original title:  بودا از شرم فرو ریخت (Buda Az Sharm Foru Rikht)
Origin: Iran
Language: Persian
Director: Hana Makhmalbaf
Producer: Masyam Makhmalbaf
Writer: Marzieh Makhmalbaf
Casts: Abbas Alijome, Abdolali Hoseinali, Nikbakht Noruz
Release: September 9, 2007
Studios: Makhmalbaf Film House, Wild Bunch
Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame is a 2007 film set in Afghanistan directed by Hana Makhmalbaf. 

The film follows the misadventures of a girl named Baktay as she desperately travels her way to a school after being provoked by her neighbour Abbas, with the hope of learning to read and write when she reaches there. One of her misfortunes includes the struggle to earn some money for a notebook if she is going to learn in school. Then, she keeps being rejected to the schools she enrolls in. The ultimate intrusion of all would be her involvement in a game where a group of boys pretend that they are the Talibans who hold Baktay and some girls captive that occasionally gets Abbas involved.

The chosen location for this film would be the ruins of Bamian, Afghanistan; a place that once was the base of the inhuman group called the Taliban. Bamian is also the place where the Talibans detonated a giant statue of Buddha, one of the other precious relics that were destroyed as depicted in the opening sequence of the film which is the actual footage of the event that happened in 2001. As for the settings, the film features little caves created in the ruins that serves as the shelter for civilians including Baktay and Abbas’s family. Other settings include the mountains of Bamian, the site of the collapsed Buddha statue, a marketplace, a bunch of riverbanks that houses a school and other facilities and many others.

Regarding the theme, Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame is trying to tell us the struggle of the Afghanistan nation as a whole through the eyes of a mere child; and that child is Baktay. Baktay is chosen a representative as one of the young Afghans that needs to cope with problems such as poverty, illiteracy, the need for reconciliation and reintegration in society.

As for the characters of the film, the main protagonist of the film would be none other than the aforementioned 5-year-old Baktay. Baktay is an independent little girl who stays with her mother and her little sister that is only capable of babysitting and later able to learn the meaning of her life as she travels to school, going through ridiculous, yet life-threatening obstacles during her journey. Baktay’s neighbour, Abbas is the secondary character in this film that provoked Baktay to go to school with him. He never abandons Baktay and will always find his way back to her, even though his loyalty exists only because he does not want any trouble with his family. The main antagonist of the film would be the self-proclaimed Taliban boys who stopped Baktay’s journey and forced her to join their imaginary war game. Minor characters include Baktay’s mother and the other civilians she encountered, such as the girl ‘hostages’, various people in the market place, the students in the girl school and many others.

When I first heard about the film, I thought it was going to be another gory war flick, since my colleagues told me that the film takes place in Afghanistan; but it seems that I have wrongly miscalculated. It is about a war indeed, but not about what happens in the war; it is actually about what happens after the war instead. I may know so little of the actual event that this film is based upon, but I know that it is going to be a film that is heavy in message, but quite simple in its visual presentation; too simple if I may add. Nonetheless, I found that the simplicity on the boy’s retelling of the viciousness of the Taliban through their imaginary war game is very effective, especially for people like me who does not have the time to associate myself with that particular news. Maybe the ‘rituals’ that the boys did to Baktay did actually happened in real life when the Taliban took someone as hostages. While the film really lacks spoken words from the actors, some of the phrases coming out of Baktay, Abbas and the Taliban boys really have some ‘weight’ that can really knock out people’s minds out so hard, they can actually see the reality that is engulfing the Afghans. One of the most notable quotes in my opinion would be “Just die! Only then you’ll be free;” as said by Abbas and one of the Taliban boys. The title of the film itself is actually representing the state of Afghanistan itself; not just the state of the Buddha statue. The lack of spoken storytelling is effectively balanced out by the stunning visual writing using the help of the realism that is presented using mainly the surroundings, very limited props and the actors’ life-like reactions on the scenarios. Furthermore, the visuals speak for itself; you don’t have to hear someone say something about the lives of the people in Bamian, since the surroundings themselves can be considered as minor characters of the film, as they play the key part in explaining the status of the Afghans and the conflicts they have to face.

Overall, Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame can be considered as a must-watch, especially if there is anyone who is looking for a film that is not afraid of criticising sensitive topics such as these using the exact settings of the actual events. I would like to say that this is a well-made masterpiece from Hana Makhmalbaf.

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