The Clay Bird

Cannes film festival

Peter Bradshaw
Thursday May 23, 2002

This charming, gentle film, showing in the Director's Fortnight at Cannes, is one of the real finds of the festival. It is about the experience of childhood, but draws upon unexpected reserves of drama and emotional disquiet to shed light on the world of adults, too. Set in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in the late 1960s, writer-director Tareque Masud's film tells the story of Anu, a boy whose father, Kazi, has abandoned the sophisticated European-British ways of his own youth to immerse himself in Islam. Kazi rejects westernised medicine to treat his ailing young daughter, and is perpetually furious at his younger brother, an easy-going left-ish intellectual, for introducing Anu to sensuous Hindu folk rituals. So Anu is sent unhappily away to a strict Muslim education.

Here Masud contrives some wonderful scenes of Anu's lonely, vulnerable childhood - appalling yet fascinating to anyone who has ever been to boarding school anywhere in the world. The director demonstrates a sure and compassionate touch in showing Anu making friends with Rokon, another outcast, and devising his own melancholy fantasy games. Later, when Rokon suffers from an infection of the inner ear, which gives him tinnitus-type noises in his head, he is immersed under water in front of the entire school in an exorcism ceremony.

Set against these shrewdly evoked scenes of private drama are some wonderful crowd scenes and ambitious set pieces, centering largely on the Hindu festivals of which Kazi is so suspicious. Masud also positions personal upheaval alongside the gathering political storm: a family tragedy dawns as the Pakistani army begins to invade, and Anu's family flee for the jungle.

This is a tale told with humour, visual flair and a canny sense of narrative. Masud shows real feeling for both the children's sadness and their ingenuous pluck in the face of life's trials: a combination symbolised by the clay bird of the title, yearning to escape its earthly form and take wing.



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Copyright 2002 Novita Rahman