Bashu, the Little Stranger
|Bashu, the Little Stranger|
|Directed by||Bahram Beizai|
|Written by||Bahram Beizai|
Bashu, the Little Stranger (Persian: باشو غریبه کوچک), is a 1986 Iranian drama film directed by Bahram Beizai. The film was produced in 1986, and was released in 1989. This multi-ethnic film was the first Iranian film to make use of the northern language of Iran, Gilaki, in a serious context rather than comic relief. (Susan Taslimi playing the main character is Gilaki herself).
The film is about a young Arab boy from Khuzestan province, in the south of Iran, during the Iran–Iraq War. His parents are killed in a bombing raid on his home village and he escapes on a cargo truck to the north. Eventually he gets off and finds refuge on the farm of a Gilak woman, Na'i, who has two young children of her own. Initially, Na'i tries to shoo Bashu away, but later takes pity on him and leaves food out for him. Although Na'i is initially ambivalent toward Bashu, and he is initially suspicious of her, they come to trust one another, and Bashu becomes a member of the family, even calling Na'i "mom". Being that Bashu speaks Arabic, while Na'i and her children speak Gilaki, they have trouble communicating with each other, although Bashu is able to speak and read Persian (for example in the scene where he picks up the school textbook, reading a passage from it in an attempt to appease the children fighting). In a gesture of reciprocation and perhaps love, Bashu cares for Na'i when she falls ill, as she had done for him, crying for her and beating a drum in prayer.
Throughout the film, Na'i maintains correspondence with her husband, a war veteran looking for employment, who has been gone for quite some time. She tells him about Bashu, and implores him to return home in time to help with the harvest. Bashu becomes Na'i's helper on the farm, and even accompanies her to the bazaar to sell her goods. Throughout the film, Bashu sees visions of his dead family members, which cause him to wander off. Ultimately, however, he and Na'i are always reunited.
The other adults in the village harangue Na'i about taking Bashu in, often deriding his dark skin and different language, and making comments about washing the dark off of his skin. In addition to the village adults, the school age children taunt and beat Bashu, although the children prove ultimately to be more willing to accept Bashu than the adults. In one scene in which he is being taunted, Bashu picks up a school book and reads aloud a passage stating, "We are all the children of Iran." Before this point, the children had assumed Bashu to be either mute or stupid.
In the end, Na'i's husband (played by Parviz Poorhosseini) returns home with no money and missing an arm, having been forced to take on dangerous work that is never identified. He and Na'i argue over her having kept Bashu against his wishes. Bashu comes to her defense, challenging the strange man to identify himself. Na'i's husband tells Bashu that he is his father, and upon this realization, they embrace as though they were always a part of the same family. The film ends with the entire family, including children, running into the farm field, making loud noises together to scare away a troublesome boar.
Through Bashu’s attempts to gain acceptance in a village where his dark skin and Khuzestani Arabic conveys his displacement, Beyzai’s film criticizes ethnocentric Persian nationalism and challenges anti-black sentiments in Iran, while underlining the tense relationship between nationalism and gender.
Bashu according to some functions as a statement against war and the efforts of the post-revolutionary government to reestablish patriarchal values. The last film in Beyzai’s village trilogy, it brings his two main archetypes—the powerful, independent woman and the idealistic, wandering orphan—together to redefine the meaning of nationhood and womanhood within Iran. Although the original cast and makers of the film don't see it this way.
Throughout the film, linguistic differences make Bashu’s journey more difficult. Persian was standardized as the official language of Iran in 1935. It became the predominant method through which educated Iranians of diverse ethnicities, predominantly men, would communicate with one another. The standardization of Persian coincided with a dramatic increase in ethnocentric Persian nationalism, characterized by an increase in the ostracization of Arab culture and language, as well as all others which deviated from the newly defined Persian norms. As seen in the film, this ethnocentric nationalistic standardization had a consequence for gender relations within the nation; the state language held little value in local villages and often left women barred from places of power within the nation-state structure.
Conveying the anti-black sentiments that plague Iran, the villagers in the film frequently compare Bashu to charcoal, call him a thief and an ill-bearing omen, and attempt to scrub away his blackness to turn him clean – white. Bashu’s intelligence and humanity is only briefly acknowledged during the scene in which he is harassed by the local village boys. One of the children beats Bashu to the ground, where he faces two choices: a rock or a book. He grabs the book and reads an iconic, nationalist Persian line: “we are the children of Iran, Iran is our country.” Only through performing formal Persian for the boys is Bashu able to open a space for his existence in the village.
Bashu explores the possibility of communication across linguistic, geographical, and ethnic divides to construct an Iranian identity that is conscious of its diversity. While pointing to language and ethnicity as markers of Otherness in the existing nation structure, the film follows the process that transforms Bashu’s Otherness into sameness for Na’i and, through Na’i’s agency, for the villagers as well.
As the first film in Iranian cinema that challenges the idea of a singular nationhood, Bashu promotes an ethnically aware sense of unity by depicting raw human emotions in scenes where protagonists speak in their regional languages. “Na’i’s Gilaki Persian and Bashu’s Khuzi Arabic work to intensify Beyzai’s symbolic orchestration of the visual and auditory images in his film that depict Iran as a microcosm, a multi-ethnic nation that has to acknowledge its variety to transcend the limitations of ethnocentrism.” It was the film’s ability to promote social commentary in a subversive government that made it noteworthy for its time.
- Picture world (Donyaye tassvir), No. 74, November 1999, ISSN 1023-2613
- "Blackness on the Iranian Periphery: Ethnicity, Language, and Nation in Bashu, the Little Stranger - Ajam Media Collective". Ajam Media Collective. 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
- Mottahedeh, Negar (2009). Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
- Zia-Ebrahimi, Reza (2016). The Emergence of Iranian Nationalism: Race and the Politics of Dislocation. New York: Columbia University Press.
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