Thanks to a glossy and pricey-looking doc put together by directors Duane Baughman and Johnny O'Hara, the Bhutto family legacy has been framed as best as they could manage, given the volumes of content available. Following years of exile, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007 shortly after returning to her homeland. In 2008, a photo exhibition in Toronto painted the horrifying picture of Pakistan's first and only female Prime Minister's final moments, shocking countless gallery-goers who dared examine the violent pieces of journalism. It was at this exhibition that my curiosity for this complex and powerful political figure took shape.
Thanks to a glossy and pricey-looking doc put together by directors Duane Baughman and Johnny O'Hara, the Bhutto family legacy has been framed as best as they could manage, given the volumes of content available.
'Bhutto' works as a biographic documentary, beginning with her broader family and her powerful father. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was both Prime Minister and President of Pakistan in the 1970s, and the narrative is careful not only to point out both his and his daughter's Western Ivy-league schooling, but directly compares the Bhutto family to the Kennedy political prowess in the US.
When a military takeover leaves the entire Bhutto family and legacy in disarray, Benazir spends tumultuous years in the West, spends time in Pakistani prison, and takes steps toward a traditional arranged marriage to current President Asif Ali Zardari.
Her years as Prime Minister in the late '80s and mid '90s were marred by her lack of political experience and the hurdles she faced as a woman in what had been a lockbox of masculinity. The directors are careful to shine a light on her liberalism, specifically the legislation she put forth for women's rights and education.
While important to the film, the events surrounding her assassination do not overshadow the many questions that remain about her politics. Heartfelt interviews with her children help us to better understand how Bhutto had no illusions about the danger she was in, but the doc is balanced enough to remind us that not all are in agreement with her views. Rifts between Benazir and her brother Murtaza, and an interview with his daughter, asks the viewer to question how transformative she really was, labeling Bhutto a traditionalist at best.
The even-keel storytelling in 'Bhutto' is both its strongest and weakest quality. The razzle-dazzle you might expect from such a rich and fascinating character is not fully extracted, but I know 100 percent more about this family thanks to watching it. Had it been all icing and no cake, there would have been even more to criticize.
'Bhutto' screens on Tuesday, May 4 at 11:00 am at the Isabel Bader Theatre.
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