The Iranian filmmaker Hana Makhmalbaf made this film set in the shadow of the Bamiyan Buddhas shortly after they were destroyed by the Taliban, scenes from which open and close the film. The caves around the Bamiyan cliffs are the home to many Hazara families, who live a very simple and poor life.
A young girl (Bahtai) sees her neighbour’s son (Abbas) reading a book, and would also like to read, but she will need to learn at school, and there are many obstacles in her way.
The first is her poverty, which prevents her from buying the necessary equipment; the second is her sex, as there are not many schools for girls; the third is her culture which regards female education as unnecessary.
The adventures she has in her single-minded quest to go to school make up the bulk of the film: she is ignored, sent away and ‘kidnapped’ – but her courage against all the odds eventually sees her make it to school.
The film is very simple yet it is also almost epic, as we see the young girl’s struggles for something so simple, and her determination to achieve the aims she has set herself.
Although the film is shot in Afghanistan in a Muslim culture, the theme is universal: it isn’t hard, for instance, to transpose the story to the problems faced by women renunciants in our own cultures: they have little support, very few training facilities and the dominant culture is against them. Still bravely they fight on, often against all the odds, to be able to have the chance to live to the full the renunciant life as prescribed by the Buddha.
Astonishingly, Hana Makhmalbaf made this film when she was only 19-years old, and it was her second full-length film. How she has managed to get such fine and realistic portrayals from the girls and boys in the film is also another noteworthy accomplishment.
She comes from a family of film-makers, of course, and that helps considerably, but she has a really exceptional talent. Her last film, called Green Days, is about the 2009 Iranian elections and their aftermath.
Bamiyan Cave Homes
Bahtai Selling Eggs
Spying on the Americans
Abbas in a Mud Trap
Bahtai at School