BIFF 2013 Day 11

Another Bullet Dodged (US) - As yet another chip is taken out of the already pretty shattered relationship, a lazy and irresponsible boyfriend turns up late yet again, to a particularly sensitive appointment.  We hate him and his stupid, innocent face.  And we are meant to; he is an idiot. 7/10

Pearblossom Hwy (US) (facebook)

Yesterday we had David Nordstrom starring in the fair to middling Pincus and directing the affectionate The Livelong Day.  Well, here he takes a turn as writer in an unusual sequel of sorts to a previous film, Mike Otts' Littlerock.  Here, the two principal actors from that film reprise their characters, twist them a little, and reboot the world in which they live.

Cory is a young man in an unfortunate position.  Living in the deep south with a marine for a brother, a mother who died when he was young and a surly, distant father, it's not the best place to grow up with an effeminate voice and an ambiguous sexuality.  Meathead brother Jeff has a short fuse whenever he opens his moth about wanting to go on reality shows, and the band he fronts is going nowhere.  He should have had that gayness pounded out of him, put into the marines, like he was.

Understandably, Cory is a pretty messed up guy, but he remains an extremely likeable one in the midst of all the intolerance around him.  Adorably sharing the innocence and worldly knowledge of Father Dougal, Cory's chance meeting with Atsuko, an immigrant from Japan studying for her citizenship test, allows him to sound off with someone more human than his beloved handycam.  Slowly the two become closer, but Atsuko has her own problems, and if she is to sacrifice her intended life for this new possibility, she needs to know her affections will be returned.

A gentle tale of two delicate lives in a sea of intolerance and hatred, Pearblossom Hwy tugs a few heartstrings but it never gets cloy-ey.  The trailer-trash settings keep things mired in stained, battered reality and the two are not so perfect themselves either.  The result is a sensitive, complicated story. 8/10

And finally we come to the last film of the festival.  There were extended ovations for the festival staff and a neat ticket stub raffle to give away copies of the book, on which the film is based.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Ind/Pak) (wiki)

It has been a difficult decade or so for films directly referencing the acts of terrorism, especially those about 9/11 and beyond.  We have the comedy and satire of Team America and Four Lions on one side, and on the other a number of hard-hitting and point-heavy documentary-style films such as The Hurt Locker.  In the intervening years, it seems like these sorts of films have had to go through a kind of growing pains period before one comes out that can actually speak about the terrorist events in a matured fashion.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is certainly a good step in that direction.  Told through the framing device of a conversation between mysterious Lahore University professor Changez (played by Riz Ahmed, of Four Lions fame) and journalistic writer turned CIA plant Robert, the film charts the progression of a young Changez from go-getting corporate suit in the US to his current lecturer role, in the hope that the wiretap will spill some information about the whereabouts of one of the professors who was kidnapped the night before.  Set around 2001, we see the effects of 9/11 and the measures taken beyond that, on the lives of Muslims living in America.  As quickly as Changez builds a life in his new home, it is taken away from him, and increasingly the call of the east chimes with him; but is he being radicalised along the way?

There will probably be some people for whom the complexities of the film - with no particular bad or good guys - will frustrate them as there is no clear side to 'back', if you will.  Attempting to tell a full story from the many sides of the subject gets a bit busy at times, but the film uses the twin time period dynamic masterfully to obscure the path that Changez has chosen.  Most of all, it gives a taste of lives on all sides of the issue, and keeps them human rather than reducing them to one dimensional evil terrorists or heroic good guys, and this makes for a satisfyingly meaty story.

I understand that the film does deviate away quite strongly from the original book, which I will have to pick up sometime.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a very well accomplished film, and the best example yet of portraying the viewpoint from 'the other side'. 8.5/10

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