“Every melon was as big as a hug.”
This is the story of Mir, a young boy living in the caves above the ruins of one of Afghanistan’s most important cultural treasures, The Buddhas of Bamiyan. The film chronicles a year in the hard life of this eight-year-old boy and his family. There is no narration and aside from a few title cards sprinkled throughout, The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan is left to speak for itself.
Couched between scenes of Mir going about his daily life are adults discussing the history of war in Afghanistan since the 1979 Russian invasion; a fascinating oral history from the people who lived it. They discuss how the Taliban (who blew up the 1600-year-old Buddha statues) came to power, and how the eventual soldiering of forces around the world brought some relief to the area.
Mir is an adorable kid, and there is rarely a frame that doesn’t show him smiling broadly. The other children are equally intrigued by the camera and take turns calling out bits of conversation. About the only thing missing from this experience is footage of the Buddhas of Bamiyan before their destruction. There is a photograph and video from the moment of the blast, but I would have loved to have seen a before and after of the region. The people in the documentary are so resilient that such an image would have given their strength an additional level of awe.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer is typical of a lower budget documentary. Although it could have been shot on someone’s digital camera, the image nevertheless displays the region’s beauty wonderfully. I had never seen a side of Afghanistan that was not part of conflict footage, so to view the natural beauty of the landscape was a real treat. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track was mixed perfectly for what it was meant to accomplish. The audio is in Arabic with English subtitles and the translation is handled well. There are no subtitles.
Understated, uplifting, and educational in a way few things are, The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan is a unique find. If you don’t know anything about the Afghan people outside of war, this is an excellent way to become acquainted with their world.