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Review: Voices of Bam (2005)

Directed by: Aliona van der Horst, Maasja Ooms | 90 minutes | documentary

After the earthquake, the city of Bam (Iran) consists only of ruins. Only the walls of the stronger houses are standing, the rest is almost completely destroyed. The film begins with an overview of the sheer scale of destruction. Often only the trees are still standing. The enormous devastation becomes visible through the alternation with old film recordings from before the quake.

After this penetrating insightful introduction, “Voices of Bam” turns into a much smaller-scale and almost intimate approach to the residents who have to live on after the disaster. How do you proceed if you have lost your spouse and children or others very dear to you? How can you live on in a more devastated city?

This is nicely worked out in the structure of this film by explicitly opting for registration of the soul’s emotions and the daily activities of the survivors. An excellent discovery is that the normally always present voiceover has been completely omitted. There is no accompanying voice of a commentator and it is the residents themselves who speak with their deceased loved ones and with the other survivors.

The camera swings through the city at a slow pace, registering activities and recording conversations. On the basis of conversations with old photos in hand, special monologues emerge. A widow who tells her late husband that she has been approached by a man who wants to marry her, life in Iran is far from easy for a single woman. The deceased husband is palpably present in these musings.

Other gems are, for example, children who have to live on even after the loss of their parents. In those scenes they almost play football on the graves, while close to it there is still intense mourning at the gravestones. In other scenes, the new TV is installed in the temporary cabins that have been set up and children ask if Father in Heaven can also watch TV.

“Voices of Bam” also shows us with caution how great the limitations are in the daily male-female relationships. Secret lovers from before the disaster could not look for each other immediately after the quake, the family was not allowed to know about their secret friendship under any circumstances: the repercussions would (even then) be great. a glimpse into the simply different social relationships.

The makers of the film were inspired by photos found in the ruins of Bam by Parisa Damindam, an Iranian photographer. This was the reason for the film for them. This inspiration led to a moving documentary. In terms of film style, the choice was rightly not for the emphatically large gestures, but rather the subtle approach to the survivors and their dialogues with the dead and the survivors. The survivability of those who stayed behind is emphatically shown. “Voices of Bam” has great eloquence.

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