The Boy Who Plays On The Buddhas Of Bamiyan

The Boy Who Plays On The Buddhas Of Bamiyan


Reviewed by: James Benefield

The Buddhas of Bamiyan used to be a UNESCO world heritage site; two huge statues of standing Buddhas carved into the cliffs in the Bamiyan valley in central Afghanistan. However, they were intentionally destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, to an international outcry. This film documents the experiences of a family living in a cave in this valley, in the shadow of where these great works of art used to be. It follows them over three or so seasons, as they live in hope that the government will find them more suitable housing.

The boy of the title is one of this family, eight-year old Mir. He’s a smiling, cheeky scamp who attends an inadequate, overcrowded school, and seems to be developing into a bit of a bully, much to the dismay of the family, who blame it on their refugee existence. With the rest of his family, Mir struggles to live in this harsh terrain, where we occasionally sees military helicopters passing overhead, and armed troops in training pass by.

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It’s a well-shot documentary, not least aesthetically. The director chooses not just to revel in the barren, sun-bleached terrain, but to also punctuate proceedings with a real intimacy and poignancy by speaking to each member of the family at length, and showing them at both work (mostly bartering; there are not many employers in such a deserted region) and play (or, what little of this that there is). To a moody, sparse soundtrack, he lets his subjects’ hopes, dreams and fears breathe, bringing out their dignity, pride and strength. Alien subjects do require human angles to connect with viewers, and this film manages it well.

Another major plus of the film is its inclusion of news footage and soundbites. It gives a Western audience something of a reference point, for one. It also works in some way as a metaphor for the family’s connection with the outside world. It’s a fairly tenuous relationship (which is quite understandable, as these people have no need for extrinsic things; most of the time they are fighting just to stay alive) but it's a relationship nonetheless. It’s something illustrated at one point by one of the family recounting what they know about September 11th. It’s a humbling moment for a Western audience. Equally humbling is that the family go to the outside world for their needs, and not for their wants.

Above all, the film shows that despite the country being ravaged by violence and despair, the Afghan people are a very proud race. The family have few kind words for the Taliban, but still have faith in their government to find them a better house. Despite showcasing much trauma; it’s ultimately an optimistic experience, and one that is both humane and informative.

Reviewed on: 29 Apr 2009
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An optimistic documentary following a refugee family who live in a cave besides the ruins of the giant Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban.

Director: Phil Grabsky

Year: 2004

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: UK


Afghan 2009

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