Bashu: A Question of Prejudice
In 1985, Iran was well into what was to be an eight year war with Iraq. This war was initiated by Saadam Hussein with the mistaken belief that Arabic speaking southern Iran would welcome the Hussein regime as they invaded Khuzistan, or as called by the Iraqis, "Arabistan." Then centuries old prejudice against Arabs and the isolation of Farsi-speaking northern Iranians from their southern countrymen had to be overlooked in order to fight as a unified country. As the war dragged on there would have been a new call, not merely for overlooking differences, but for overcoming them. So then Bahram Baiza'i was able to present his film Bashu, the Little Stranger to the censuring MCIG who would have read out of the film a call for unity inside Iran. However, the film deals metaphorically with all levels of prejudice including that against lower socioeconomic groups, and that which has constrained the role of women. As a member of the Bahai faith and therefore a cultural pluralist, Baiza'i uses his film as a subtle critique of the islamization of the country.
One level of attack at prejudice is against Islamic chauvinism. The first shot of Naii, the woman who becomes Bashu's ward, shows her with a wide angle close up where she is holding two ends of her scarf across her face to simulate a chador and then the two ends drop and we have a torso shot with her face showing. The contrast of these two shots suggest exactly the opposite of Islamic thoughts about women. The first shot suggests that the chador gives women a mystique and therefore objectifies them. Second, that the fierce visage of this woman does more on its own to discourage improper thoughts. Furthermore the rest ofthe movie contains many strong female types who are received as such because of the tremendous strength in their faces. Naii is supporting two children, running her house, and raising crops in the absence of her husband even before she encounters Bashu. When Bashu first arrives, she tries to scare him off but then accepts him as part of her load. While Naii still upholds the Islamic virtues of responsibility to house and children, her character serves to subvert this patriarchal notion with the subtle notion that she runs the house better on her own; and that in running, she does a better job than the other home makers in the village. Most importantly, Naii shows the strength to take care of her own well enough and take on more as need arises.
Bashu, is a little boy from southern Iran and speaks only Arabic. He has fled his city as a stowaway after escaping a bomb that claims the lives of his parents in a fire. Bashu is haunted by the ghosts of his parents who loom silently in the background throughout the film. He controls the camera with an externalized angst. Yet even through overwhelming despair, he continues to pull through. This resolve is used to dignify his character and thereby dignify the whole of southern Iran. His communication is facilitated at first by repitition of Naii's words and then by reading from elementary Persian textbooks. The first reading serves to save him from a beating at the hands of the local boys as they hear him read a section from the commandements that decry that no one shall discriminate on the basis of race and that "we are all children of Iran." The children ultimately reveal that they bear him no malice even though they repeatedly beat on him. these beatings are shown as coming from juevenille sources. Subsequently by showing the boys making up suggests that even the adult community is acting immature when it succumbs to and that burying the hatchet is as easy as wanting to. At times Bashu establishes rapport with Naii by playfully calling out animal sounds. The animal sounds are perhaps the most important vehicle for metaphor because they suggest that human friendship is instinctive and that prejudice is conditioned and therefore a betrayal of Natural Order. The Boar that Naii, her husabnd and Bashu chase off is symbolic of the unknown (possibly of Iraq and/or the regime), of the ignorance that gives rise to prejudice; moreover that unity and alertness can overcome it.
B A C K to Third World Cinema I N D E X