Benazir Bhutto had a life that makes fiction pale by comparison. When writer Tariq Ali says, characterizing the tale of her charismatic but cursed family, "the whole story has strong elements of a Greek tragedy," he is not telling the half of it.
As "Bhutto," the thorough and involving documentary on her life conveys, Benazir was a formidable personality all by herself. The first woman to head a Muslim state, twice Pakistan's prime minister, assassinated Dec. 27, 2007, when she returned from exile to try for a third term, Benazir was rarely less than remarkable.
The same goes for her family. Her passionate, charismatic father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was one of Pakistan's most influential politicians, someone who saw his children as his legacy and envisioned his family as the Kennedys of Pakistan.
Unfortunately, that comparison holds true down to the level of tragedy. Zulfikar lost power after a military coup and ended up executed, and three of his children, Benazir's two brothers in addition to herself, all met violent deaths.
Though "Bhutto" doesn't shy away from the controversies surrounding its subject, it is very much on Benazir's side. Directors Duane Baughman and Johnny O'Hara have gotten on-camera cooperation from Benazir's sister, her three children and her widower, Pakistan's current President Asif Ali Zardari.
Plus the film made extensive use of audiotapes, never before aired publicly, that journalist Linda Bird Francke made with Benazir while working with her on her autobiography, "Daughter of Destiny."
Yet "Bhutto" also takes pains to include an interview with Benazir's niece Fatima, the daughter of her murdered brother Murtaza and a woman who offers a withering critique of her assassinated aunt. She has also accused widower Zardari, who had the nickname of "Mr. Ten Percent" because of alleged corruption during his wife's first term, of continued dishonesty and worse.
While getting to the bottom of these disputes is not in the cards for "Bhutto," what this film does best is offer a crash course in the ultra-turbulent history of Pakistan, the second-largest Muslim country in the world and with a reported nuclear arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons.
Benazir's father was a major player in that history, memorably physically tearing up an agreement with India during a U.N. debate. When President Kennedy told Zulfikar he'd place him in his cabinet if he were an American, the Pakistani leader responded, "If I was an American, I would be in your place."
When Benazir was born, her parents went into mourning because she was not a boy. Benazir overcame this obstacle, the first of many, and became so adept at politics and so close to her father, who founded the Pakistan Peoples Party, that he defied tradition and named her his political heir.
Her extensive involvement in government meant that Benazir had little time for a personal life, so she took the unusual step of being part of an arranged marriage because remaining a single woman would have hampered her political career.
"Bhutto" says the union blossomed into a love match and the sadness Zardari demonstrates in his interview segments is an emotion that all viewers of this look at Benazir's tragic life will share.