Dir: Hana Makhmalbaf. Iran / France , 2007. 81 min.
Hana Makhmalbaf is the younger scion of the Makhmalbaf Film House factory. All of eighteen years old and already a veteran with a short film, a documentary and a book of poems to her credit, she handles this first feature with an imperturbable aplomb. With her mother Marziyeh Meshkini on board as the scriptwriter and with all the rest of the family involved in the production, the outcome will not shame their collective reputation.
Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame is a parable, as most Makhmalbaf family films usually are. It shows how war games played by adults turn their children into vicious copies of their parents.
Shot on location in Afghanistan in the town of Bamiyan, where the Taliban notoriously blew up the two gigantic Buddha statues in 2001 (the explosion providing the opening and closing shots of the film), this simple tale of a little girl who wants to go to school blends good natured irony with moments of authentic ferocity.
Six year old girl Bakhtay (NikBakht Noruz) envies her next door neighbour, Abbas, who is already in first grade at school and has a notebook full of amusing reading lessons. She wants to go to the school that has recently opened across the river and nothing is going to stop her.
But her family's poverty means she lacks even basic equipment, so she ingeniously sets about acquiring it. In need of something to write on, she takes some eggs from home, exchanges them for a loaf of bread which she then sells for money that she uses to buy a copybook.
With her mother's lipstick for a pencil, she sets off for her first day at school.
On her way she is harassed by a group of older boys who hold sticks in their hands which they pretend are guns.
They threaten her, labelling her alternately as debauched for going to school and using lipstick, as a hated enemy agent, and as a western collaborator. They faithfully repeat the fanatical propaganda they have heard being chanted by grown-ups.
They hold her prisoner for a while, and only thanks to her natural pig-headedness does she manage to escape them. But once at the school she is sent home because she carries with her the vestiges of Western depravity in the form of the lipstick,
Before she makes it home, the horde is upon her again, this time accusing her of being a terrorist.
For a while, the film looks and sounds like another anthropologically interesting portrait of an underdeveloped society with children's games parodying adult follies.
But the way it comments on the pernicious influence of extremism on young people leads it into richer territory.
While no violence is actually perpetrated, the paper sack put on Bakhtay's head as if she were a hostage about to be executed, the fanaticalvocabulary venomously spouted out by these children and the hatred written all over their faces and echoed in their voices, are not funny at all.
Neither is the end of the film, when Abbas, innocently offers Bakhtay the unintentionally sinister advice: 'Die and you'll be free'. He means 'play dead' but the implication is quite different.
The expressive faces of the children, who were perhaps so familiar with the material from their own everyday experiences that they didn't require much direction, are a major asset here.
Nikbakht Noruz, who is no more than six years old but carries most of the film, is a natural subject for the camera, and seems utterly undaunted by its presence.
The cinematography makes the most of the barren, sun scorched, almost lunar locations,.
It is expertly edited by Mastaneh Mohajer, who has frequently worked with the Makhbalbafs in the past.
The production has been completed by the errant family at their present basis in Tajikistan, since the Iranian Ministry of Culture has never deigned to give the film a permit.
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