The Clay Bird (2002) – By James L. Neibaur

 Those of us who are a certain age can recall first knowing about the situation in Bangladesh when the late George Harrison held a 1972 concert to benefit the hunger stricken masses from this area. The music of Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Badfinger, and others, was the catalyst to bring our attention to something we may have known little about otherwise.

Filmmaker Tareque Masud has revisited his own experiences in Bangladesh during the late 1960s, some years prior to the Harrison concert, but during an era where political division was about to erupt.

The story centers around Anu, a young boy who is sent by his orthodox Muslum father to study in a faraway Madrasah. The sequences of the boy trying desperately to adapt to the rigidity of the school’s structure, his being ostracized by his classmates, and his friendship with another outcast, are alternated with scenes depicting his family back at home. His father withholds his inherent misgivings, being true to allah, his young sister is lost in her own loneliness, and his mother quietly endures and questions little. Soon the mother’s independence evolves, and further political tensions cause a divisiveness in the Madrash as well as the village.

While offering the authenticity of his story, Masud also presents the surrounding beauty of the country’s landscapes, the joyous celebration of Hindu festivities, and the terror of extremism. This helps to enhance the narrative and add depth to each character.

The film shifts from the uncomfortable feeling of Anu as an outsider in his own school, to his warm, comfortable feeling in his own village. It offers parallels between the structure of school and family life to the tumultuous situations that are politically driven and violent. Each big even affects so many tiny areas of the people, their land, and their society. The Clay Bird is a film from which one can learn a great deal, and its story, though set in the past, is quite timely.

Milestone Film and Video have released a nice widescreen DVD with a solid selection of bonus features, including an introduction by the filmmaker, interviews with the cast and crew, a thirty minute Making Of documentary, soundtrack music, trailers, stills, and a downloadable press kit. It certainly measures up, for this reviewer, as one of the best DVD releases of 2006.