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Bhutto (DVD Review)

26 May, 2011 By: Mike Clark

First Run
Box Office $0.1 million
$27.95 DVD
Not rated.

Though in some cases they might have even meant it as mild criticism, several of last year’s original reviewers noted that this documentary about assassinated two-time Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was as much a history of her country since its 1947 partition as it was her personal story. Given the events of the past month, this hardly seems like an anti-selling point — if, indeed, it even was then.

Using a flood of old clips dating back to the regime of her father (Prime Minister and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), this portrait leaves little doubt over the degree to which trouble has followed Pakistan around in most of our lifetimes. Possibly preparing Benazir — who ascended to power herself despite the severe handicap of her sex — for what followed, the senior Bhutto’s history served as exhibit A in terms of the degree to which political fortunes can change. In Zulfikar’s case, it was true not only in his own country but in terms of U.S. relations as well.

JFK once told the Berkeley/Oxford-educated Zulfikar that were he an American, he’d be in the Kennedy Cabinet. The latter then replied that were he an American, he would be the U.S. president. Later, the Pakistan People Party’s leader fell out of U.S. favor (not a whole lot of love lost with Henry Kissinger) over his country’s desire to develop a nuclear device in light of neighboring India’s own possession of the Bomb. Reflecting a constant in Pakistani politics, the country’s military eventually took over and treated Zulfikar much worse. It executed him.

Taking the JFK footnote much further, the Bhuttos were often called “the Kennedys of Pakistan,” what with the clan’s wealth, glitz, personal tragedy and looks (Benazir’s mother was also a stunner at one point). There was also the Kennedy penchant for generating copy. In a surprising arranged marriage with current Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that no one disputes evolved into genuine love, Harvard-educated Benazir wed someone who spent about as many years in prison over corruption charges (without being found guilty) as he didn’t during their union. Zardari cuts a sympathetic figure here but also seems transparently slick — and the family’s widely alleged pocket-lining is an issue the documentary glosses over some. Criticizing the last (sibling rivalry was hardly a non-issue in public opining) was Benazir’s brother Murtaza. He was eventually assassinated in murky fashion (talk about running in the family), and Murtaza’s highly photogenic daughter appears on camera here to accuse her own aunt of complicity.

Alleged corruption played a part in collapsing Benazir’s first term, though she returned for a second to spearhead reforms before her government was dissolved at the hands of then-president Farooq Leghari. Even leaving the Taliban out of it, Pakistan is a massively illiterate country with the women’s-rights track record that you’d expect to go hand-in-hand. Major roadblocks to democratic reforms included rampant sexism and the prime minister’s own military (often one and the same) — the latter personified by shifty (in neon) Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul-Hag, who eventually got his in a suspicious 1988 plane explosion that killed 31 more, including the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. More murk.

Bleach-resistant family laundry or not, the Bhutto family would likely come off well vs. other alternatives even without a documentary this admiring in her corner — one that’s distinguished by major “access” (Benazir’s widower and children plus several high-profile admirers) If Bhutto doesn’t quite feel rounded, it is compelling all the way — and it would be even without the recent Pakistani intrigue in Osama Bin Laden’s dispatching.

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