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DVD Review
By Nelhydrea Paupér

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The Clay Bird

Directed by Tareque Masud. Screenplay by Mr. Masud and Catherine Masud. Music by Moushumi Bhowmik. Cinematography by Sudhir Palsane. Edited by Catherine Masud. With Nurul Islam Bablu, Russell Farazi, Jayanto Chattopadhyay, Rokeya Prachy. 95 minutes. France/Pakistan/Bangladesh; originally released in 2002.

Available on DVD from Milestone Films, $29.95. Call them at (800) 603-1104.

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Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of the turbulent period in the late 60's leading up to Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan, Matir Moina (The Clay Bird) tells the story of a family torn apart by religion and war. A young boy, Anu, is sent off to a strict Islamic school, or madrasa, by his deeply religious father Kazi.

    As the political divisions in the country intensify, an increasing split develops between moderate and extremist forces within the madrasa, mirroring a growing divide between the stubborn but confused Kazi and his increasingly independent wife. Touching upon themes of religious tolerance, cultural diversity, and the complexity of Islam, Matir Moina has universal relevance in a crisis-ridden world.

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    After recently viewing Tareque Masud’s The Clay Bird I realized I have now seen two Bangladesh movies. The difference is this one does not star George Harrison.
    All right, all right. I promise—no more Mr. Wiseguy.
    There has been a tremendous movement in Asian cinema in the last twenty years or so, one that has been especially significant in the Muslim world. Iran has produced at least two major filmmakers—Abbas Kiarostami and Majid Majidi—who are clearly among the finest on the planet today. In an era when cleverness passes for brilliance and sadism equals coolness, it is almost overwhelming to watch beautiful, deeply moving films like Children of Heaven or The Color of Paradise, films made with genuine artistry and steeped in classical cinema. Imagine: living filmmakers who have more in common with Renoir and Dreyer than Spielberg and Scorsese (sorry Marty).
    The Clay Bird, Masud’s memoir of 1960s Bangladesh—a land about to be torn apart by civil war—is an engrossing and at times touching film. But its sensibility has more in common with Richard Attenborough’s epics than classical cinema. Like most current dramatic Hollywood films today, it tries to shoehorn too many threads into one ninety-minute tale. A boy sent away to an oppressive religious school by a zealous father; a sick sister; an oppressed mother; a kind uncle who is a Marxist; a boy at the school chastised and losing his grip on reality; two teachers at the school, one kind and nurturing the other cold and cruel; all set against the history of political turmoil that led to the brutal civil war of the early 1970s. The result is that none of the individual stories or characters are full or satisfying and the historical/political dimension of the film is rather flimsy.
    Having said that, The Clay Bird does have its merits. The opportunity to simply see an otherwise overlooked culture is wonderful. The beauty of the country and its people is a pleasure to the eye. The film is most enlightening when it focuses on the ‘insignificant’ things of these lives, rather than trying to make everything symbolic and ‘meaningful.’
    The film also presents the conflicts of Islam (and by extension all religions) that are now, finally, of importance to the West. The battle between the God-fearing and the God-loving runs throughout the entire picture. There’s even a musical number that has an Islamic singing debate, like one of those rap-battles in 8 Mile, between an orthodox woman and a more liberal Sufi man. The song, like most of the film’s music, is fantastic and, again, something that brings the beauty of the culture to the forefront.
    Ultimately, the existence of non-Japanese Asian (and all third world) cinema is still a secret to most westerners…other than Bollywood. The majority of work remains unknown. But there is so much to see! I encourage you to take a few weeks to seek out and rent (or queue up) films like those mentioned earlier, and after them try The Clay Bird. Skip the Hollywood product for a while and explore the world we live in. Before it completely blows up.

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Above: Tareque and Catherine Masud are filmmakers based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Through their production company, Audiovision, they have produced numerous documentaries and shorts. The Clay Bird is their first feature film.
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    Copyright © 2006 by Nelhydrea Paupér