BHUTTO is a trenchant precis on global politics played out on very personal level. The complicated interrelation of governments and the laws of unintended consequences came to a startling nexus in the person of Benazir Bhutto, the subject of Duane Baughman and Johnny OHaras provocative documentary.
She was the unlikely successor to a political dynasty, the eldest daughter of a Muslim family raised by unconventional parents who didnt restrict her to the conventional gender role. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the first leader of Pakistan, and the family were the Kennedys of Pakistan. The portrait of her father, charismatic and tough, is key to understanding his eldest daughter. She sent her to be educated in the west during the turbulent 1970s, but with roots that left her Pakistani sensibilities intact. Benazir emerges as brilliant, driven, and equally charismatic. A woman devoted to her people who championed the rights of women in a country not ready for them, a daughter seeking revenge for her father, executed by General Zia, the man who ousted him with the tacit approval of the United States, and a modern woman who submitted to an arranged marriage in order to better rule her conservative country. Her friends are as fiercely devoted to her as her enemies, including family members, are still raging against her. At the center of power growing up, imprisoned for years after her fathers fall, and improbably returning to power only to be caught up in corruption scandals and internecine fighting. Her fall her rise, and her last bid for power that ended with her death by accident or assassination, the details of which are still disputed by official sources. Benazir is given the last word, though, in an e-mail sent to Galbraith before starting her last political campaign in which she names Zia as her assassin should anything happen to her.
Filmmakers turns to the people who were there, friends from her days as a Harvard undergraduate such as Peter Galbraith, who went on to a notable diplomatic career, Benazirs sister, her daughters, her husband who worship her memory, and the niece who blames her for the death of her father when he made a move to take political power for himself. Benazir herself speaks from the grave The film does not shy away from controversy, or the familys enormous wealth, but it puts it into the context of who benefits from the scandal, and who doesnt. It comes very close to being a whitewash, but doesnt fall into that trap. This is no hagiography. Benazirs own words prevent that from happening. The key moment is Galbraith recalling a conversation he had with her. He reported that Zia had remarked that his only mistake was in not killing her. Galbraith recalls the intense calm with which she replied Hes right. Only the calm is a surprise after learning the conditions under which she was imprisoned after her fathers execution.
Though a very personal history, the larger political picture is always in view. The effects of the Bhutto family history, the effects of international events on it, and the unexpected reciprocal effects of that family history on international events is startling. All the more so for it them not having been laid out with such clarity before. The law of unintended consequences set in motion by people with short-sighted goals make for a history of diplomacy, and its failure, that should give pause to any viewer. The rise of madrasahs in Pakistan, and by extension the grip of religious and political extremism, that arose because of the fall of Bhutto senior, a fall that had the tacit approval of the United States, is seen to lead directly to 9/11.
BHUTTO plays like a real-life political thriller. Told to appeal to both the intellect and the emotions, it is a fascinating, gripping cautionary tale of uncommon power.