JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Bhutto (Directors: Duane Baughman, Johnny O'Hara) - May 6, 2010
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Bhutto

4 4
115 min.

Reviewed at the 2010 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
Beware a daughter’s revenge

Students of history, corruption devotees and those fascinated by abuse of power don’t dare miss Duane Baughman's and Johnny O’Hara’s full-bore probe into the life, death and times of Pakistan’s most famous family.

From the birth-of-a-nation background—intriguingly intertwining statements of fact (6th largest country, 9,824 fatalities by terrorists in 2009) with grainy archival footage, the viewer’s stage is engagingly set for the multi-generational Bhutto saga.

The rise, fall and execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was forever etched onto the young minds of the land-rich, enigmatic leader’s children—all but one of whom were destined/determined to follow in his footsteps until they, too, met unnatural ends. None more than eldest daughter Benazir, whose political career more than assuaged the family’s collective shame at being born a girl in 1953. Her recollection of the new wife and daughter being shunned without visitors in the hospital is just one of many incidents told in the future prime minister’s voice, adding first-hand, compelling corroboration to many of the remarkable events to come. This autobiographical feeling is one of the production’s best features.

The burning desire to continue her father’s programs through ballots rather bullets (a huge irony given her own murder) is an important theme both for the biographical details and the understanding of a country that was born from violence and whose military—even in the democratic “intermissions” between dictatorships—has controlled the largely impoverished populace from 1947 whether elected or not.

With Afghanistan as a next-door neighbour and the opportunistic, resources-driven U.S. fickle foreign policy, it’s hardly surprising that instability of the citizenry has been virtually institutionalized.

The alarming rate of illiteracy and the huge amount of resources spent on making Pakistan an active member of the nuclear club explain those twin tragedies with the greatest of ease.

The Bhuttos’ main rivals are Generals Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (1978-88), Perez Musharraf (2001-2008), a litany of corruption rumours and charges as well as family in-fighting (eldest son Murtaza never seemed to get over the fact that his father favoured Benazir to be his successor; some feel she may well have had a hand in his murder). The apparent calm within the family storm comes with the arranged marriage (a single prime minister would instill even more gossip to fuel the tabloids) to “playboy” Asif Ali Zardari, who fathered two girls and was the “guest of the state,” awaiting trial for eleven years only to be released without a single conviction and now the current president.

The film is a marvellous quilt of interviews and commentaries that come down largely on the side of those who believe Benazir’s assassination was planned and literally washed away (so Macbeth-like in the immediate cleansing of blood after the dastardly act). The U.S. backing of those “who are with us” leading to today’s unwinnable debacle in Afghanistan lurks menacing in the weeds. Yet within the country of 180,000,000 itself, the entire chain of events from 1947 on seems driven by a very few powerful, wealthy families whose only difference is that some wear uniforms and other do not. Even after all of those deadly squabbles have ended (and another generation of Bhuttos preparing to assume their rightful place), thousands upon thousands of disenfranchised youth are being taught the strife-perpetuating lessons of who’s your enemy and how to use a gun.

If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s promised reforms had been implemented, the world might just be a safer place. But, like leaders everywhere—once in office—moving an agenda into actions seems as impossible as conducting free and fair elections. JWR

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