THE CLAY BIRD (Tareque Masud, 2002)

“Why would Muslims kill Muslims?” asks Kazi, a rural East Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist who insists that the army coming from West Pakistan is benign. It is the late 1960s; civil war will lead in a few years to the formation of independent Bangladesh. Kazi’s wife, Ayesha, is Hindu; their young children, Asma and Anu, best friends. Fearing that Anu’s Uncle Milon, Ayesha’s brother, is having too great an influence on the shy, quiet boy, though, Kazi boats Anu off to a madrasah, an Islamic fundamentalist boarding school, where boys are roused early each day because “[i]t is better to pray than to sleep.” Anu, his uncle’s nephew, befriends the one boy who is tormented by the others. Meanwhile, back home Asma falls sick, and Kazi prohibits the medicine that Uncle Milon tries slipping in to Ayesha to give the child. Kazi is convinced that prayer and his own homeopathic remedy is all that his daughter needs—a rigidity whose disastrous outcome wobbles his faith and drops him into a deep depression as the army descends, razing and burning homes, and randomly killing innocent villagers. Milon, a communist, was among those who confronted the invaders and tried to keep them from crossing the bridge to their village. Ayesha has now lost her daughter and brother.
     Tareque Masud’s autobiographical Matir moina, which he wrote with Catherine Masud, his wife, is one of the most heartbreaking films I have seen. It is all quietly, thoughtfully executed, eschewing flamboyant melodrama, and giving voice to a range of very different kinds of Islamic beliefs. It could not be more current.
     The caged “clay bird” could be Ayesha, whose arranged marriage began when she was 14 and who has “no place to go.”
     International Critics’ Prize, Cannes; best screenplay, Marrakech.

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