In honor of the wonderful present my wife gave me, I am featuring giant things this week. The Giant Buddhas is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: The Giant Buddhas (2005) – NR – Not rated (I did not notice any objectionable content).
“Christian Frei’s documentary traces the tragic tale of the giant Buddhas of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, which stood as monumental landmarks for 1,500 years until 2001, when the Taliban declared that all non-Islamic statues in the country be destroyed. Despite international protest, the statues were blown up. Through interwoven narratives from past and present, Frei’s film sheds light on the disturbing consequences of religious fanaticism.”
“Everything changes. Nothing remains.” – Buddha
No this is not a movie about giant Buddha statues attacking people. Sadly it is a documentary about the reverse. The Giant Buddhas covers the destruction of two 1500 year old Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001.
While the documentary is well worth watching there are a number of problems with it. The narrator”s voice drones on in a passionless monotone which saps some of the life from the film. When the English narrator isn’t speaking then we are listening to people speak in Arabic, Cantonese, French and other languages with a ton of subtitles so be prepared to do a LOT of reading.
The Giant Buddhas attempts to cover way too much ground. There is enough material for a week”s worth of documentaries. We cover not only the destruction of the Buddhas but also a reconstruction in China, the history of the Buddhas, the history of the Buddhas as viewed by Westerners, an extremely courageous Arabic journalist, the archaeological dig trying to find the third (reclining) Buddha, people who live in the caves between the Buddhas, and more.
Part of the problem I think is that the director is also the producer and editor. This could definitely have used a guiding hand and a jettisoning of some of the other stories. Daily Afghan life is very fascinating as are a number of the other stories but it appears that the director couldn’t quite decide what story he wanted to tell.
The final portion of the film is Nelofer Pazira”s (a female journalist) journey to the niches that housed the Buddhas. Those images are very depressing.
At one point we’re watching Nelofer riding down a road next to a hardscrabble stream. She asks the driver, “Are there mines along the banks?” Can you imagine living in a world where you would have to ask that? Keep in mind that that is also the people’s main source of water.
I recommend watching this movie simply for the subject matter. It is a great shame that these statues were destroyed. It is also a great shame that this documentary is so unfocused.
People Watch: Director Christian Frei was nominated for an Oscar for his documentary War Photographer.