MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Bashu’: Beizai’s Testament to Power of Love
There’s nothing in the subtitles to tell us, but it’s clear that the bombardment with which the wondrous “Bashu, the Little Stranger” (at the AMC Santa Monica 7) commences is an Iraqi assault. The location is southern Iran along the Persian Gulf, and in a flaming village the camera picks up a small boy who manages to stowaway aboard a truck, which he alights after passing through vast stretches of desert to the verdant rural Far North around the Caspian Sea.
This boy, a dark, handsome 10-year-old named Bashu (Adnan Afravian) might as well be an alien from another planet. The peasantry, whose way of life has changed little over the millenia, find his Arabic dialect incomprehensible--never mind that he can’t understand its dialect either--and refer to him as a piece of coal because of his dusky skin. Even the bold-featured Nai (Susan Taslimi), as beautiful as she is sturdy, whose two small children have found him in the fields, casts a stone at him. But you know very well that this radiant earth mother is eventually going to take him in.
There’s much of Anna Magnani in Taslimi’s gestures and volcanic talent--in her tenderness and passion and humor. This superbly gifted actress and the equally resourceful Afravian take this film way beyond sentimentality. The flowering of Nai’s love for Bashu parallels his own struggle to find a place in a totally foreign and frequently hostile environment.
“Bashu, the Little Stranger” is a pure joy in which there are absolutely no false moves and both laughter as well as tears. Every movement of the camera, its every placement, its every composition, indeed, every cut in the film is exactly right, serving unobtrusively to tell a story.
Yet because the film’s veteran writer-director Bahram Beizai, aided by the extraordinary cinematographer Firooz Malekzadeh, is first and foremost a storyteller, all sorts of subtle implications and symbols arise, in regard to anti-war as well as anti-racist sentiments. (Iranian audiences will probably suspect that rather than “job-hunting” Nai’s husband is actually off to war--especially considering his condition upon his return.)
“Bashu, the Little Stranger” is finally a testament to the transforming power of love and its ability to transcend the limits of experience, education and ethnicity. Although just short of two hours, “Bashu, the Little Stranger” (Times-rated Mature; too intense for small children) is always brisk and lively; it’s as modest as it is flawless.
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