The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan

(Phil Grabsky, UK, 2004)


This British documentary is firmly in a humanist tradition that gladdens the hearts of one half of the audience while sending the other half out groaning with dismay.

The situation it presents at the outset is vivid and striking. Mir, an eight-year-old Afghani boy, happily fills his hours with friends scampering among the ruins left by a horrific event that we all saw on television: the destruction by the Taliban of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan.

The life of Mir and his family is one of unremitting poverty. We observe the daily rituals of acquiring meagre portions of food or repairing long worn-out clothing. Mir’s parents recall the dark days of the Taliban and look forward – most likely in vain – to being given new housing.

This could have been a bleak portrait, but the emphasis stays on Mir, his optimism (he wants to be a teacher) and resourcefulness. Yet, by sticking with this bright spark so insistently, the film forfeits the possibility for any deeper or wider social panorama.

As a feature documentary, the film also has problems pulling its material into a meaningful and developing form. After the first twenty or thirty minutes, just about everything has been seen and shown: the contrast between the beauty of the landscape and the hardness of the living conditions, the problems borne by the parents versus the fun experienced by the kids. Director Phil Grabsky gives himself nowhere to go, and the provisional conclusion feels like it takes a very long time to arrive.

Grabsky spent a year living with his subjects and collecting this material. Despite the familiarity this must have produced, there is little feeling of such intimacy conveyed by the film itself. It remains, despite its best intentions, a largely touristic view, having more in common with Koyaanisqatsi-style grandiose statements about the Human Condition than any patient, exploratory reportage.

MORE Grabsky: In Search of Mozart

© Adrian Martin September 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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