Voices Of Bam

Voices Of Bam


Reviewed by: Max Blinkhorn

This is an extraordinary film about ordinary people whose lives are contorted by an earthquake that has had a devasting effect on their world. When events such as earthquakes occur in more remote areas we rarely see the detail. Standard fodder of rescuers crawling over the wreckage and the extraction of children from beneath rubble is about the limit. When an earthquake struck the ancient city of Bam in Eastern Iran in December 2003, it seemed similarly distant, yet here we see people who are more like us than we could have guessed.

Aliona van der Horst and Maasja Ooms's Voices of Bam takes us back to see the aftermath of the disaster that befell this ancient city. Bam, we see, is a windy, dry place populated by beautiful, strong-faced and sophisticated Iranian people who strive to get over the cataclysm that took away their lives, families and city. Their voices speak without narration. The pictures are a purer form of cinema verite with subdued colour and an eye that sees but does not pry.

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The city bustles, despite the fallen walls and roofless houses. People live in steel lorry containers, if they are lucky. Containers also make excellent shops. The remaining families watch televisions powered by their own generators and modern technology seems somehow to bring comfort in unusual ways; a man makes a DVD video presentation using the remains of photographs of a woman's son and image manipulation. It is through these photographs and many others like them that we are able to see into the past of the families with whom we become acquainted in the film and therefore, on a much deeper level, the place. The damaged negatives, the fragments of prints rescued from the wreckage by an Iranian art historian all allow us to see into the victims' lives in many different ways. These poignant images are bolstered by letters to dead relatives which reveal the emotional depth of the losses suffered.

For me, the film reminds us that the world over, our children are our most precious attachments, and these disconnected sound-only accounts of fathers losing their wives and beautiful offspring through the destruction of their homes are utterly heartrending. It's not an easy one to watch and, at eighty nine minutes, requires a wee bit of viewing stamina, but that's reality for you.

In the final frames, we see a man who we know has lost his family riding hopefully along a desert road, the camera mounted on a vehicle driving alongside him. I saw this as symbolic of humanity continuing the journey in an old landscape, but of course, everyone who sees Voices of Bam will take their own thing from this delicate and incredibly human film.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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The aftermath of an earthquake in the ancient Iranian city of Bam.

Director: Aliona van der Horst, Maasja Ooms

Year: 2006

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: Iran


EIFF 2006

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