BASHU, THE LITTLE STRANGER (Bahram Beizai, 1986; 1989)

In the state of Khuzestan, in southwest Iran, Iraqi bombs pitilessly descend during the Iran-Iraq War. After seeing his mother burn to death, ten-year-old Bashu hides in the back of a transport truck and escapes northward, ending up in Gilan near the Caspian Sea. This is a foreign land to Bashu, who speaks Arabic, while those now surrounding him and rejecting him as a dark-skinned outsider speak Gilaki. However, Na’i, a mother with two toddlers on a farm, takes the bullied child in; after all, he is “a son of the sun and the earth.” Each learns something of the other’s language; their communication beyond language deepens. He becomes her son; she, his mother. When he returns from laboring elsewhere, will Na’i’s husband accept Bashu, yet another mouth to feed?
     Writer-director Bahram Beizai’s simple, touching Bashu, gharibeye koochak instances the war-disrupted lives of children that still may proceed to renewal and reintegration. Survivors—young survivors, at least—need not be “lost lives.”
     Bashu, resourceful, makes a flute, which he plays hauntingly, and a scarecrow, which looks like no other. Indeed, the scarecrow is twice unique: in an objective shot and a subjective one representing Bashu’s point of view. His growing sensitivity to his new environment parallels his and Na’i’s deepening relationship. In two consecutive shots (spiritually, one shot), Na’i, indoors, falls down ill and—really, the editing makes clear, while—Bashu, outside, rises empathetically. Bashu, outside, makes a drum of some object and rhythmically beats it; indoors, sick Na’i starts moving to the beat, dancing her way back to health before our astonished eyes.
     Surreal shots of a racing wild boar symbolize the family’s threatened existence. At the last, Bashu joins in with noise and motion to help frighten the beast away.

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