Generation gap with a twist.
My Son the Fanatic is a well acted picture that touches and delves into both old and new territory, and even some of the old turf is given new treatment. It's safe to say I admire the film's ambitions, but on the other hand I think it simply cannot live up to them. Too many themes muddy a film that could have stood well as a one or two issue one.
My Son the Fanatic, the latest from director Udayan Prasad, is an occasionally comedic drama centered around Parvez (Om Puri, In Custody), a Pakistani immigrant to the British Midlands who drives a taxi at night to support his family. His work often puts him in the company of prostitutes who he drives to and from their tricks. In contrast, his son has suddenly given up on the British mainstream life his father has facilitated to pursue fundamentalist Islam and a traditional Pakistani way of life. This definitely works in the sense of it being a generation gap picture in reverse, where the son is the more conservative one. But as I said above, this main plot gets muddied by trying to tackle several issues at once; assimilation vs. Protection of native culture, religious fanaticism, hypocrisy, bigotry, the struggle between responsibility and self actualization, and the inherent need that everyone has for love and closeness.
Puri watches in dismay as his son throws away all traces of his Western existence and dons white, and going ever farther into obsession; even inviting an Islamic teacher and other followers to stay in their home. His wife seems to accept the limitations of Islamic culture put upon her by her son, even staying in the kitchen when men are eating. All of this troubles him and he has no one to talk to; as the relationship with his wife seems to be one of quiet contempt. He finally turns to Bettina (Rachel Griffiths), a British hooker with a heart of gold who sees him as a good man rather than an invisible taxi driver.
For most of the picture this is a platonic relationship, where both just draw strength from the other in conversation. But life takes a turn when a German visitor to England (Stellan Skarsgård, Deep Blue Sea) relies on his cab driver to supply prostitutes and drink, and attempts to draw him into his hedonistic lifestyle. So there is a genuine tug of war both in the home and palpably to the audience, as the father gets pulled ever more toward the West while the son gets pulled to his Islamic roots. This sounds harmless enough except for when the son Farid (Akbar Kurtha) joins efforts to terrorize the local prostitutes as unclean and the community as a whole by rioting and burning buildings. This puts the father and son on a direct collision course.
Certainly all the performances are strong, and some of the scenes profound. The scenes between Puri and Rachel Griffiths shine. The supporting cast is fine as well but lack the chemistry of these two. The characters are vivid and believable and the treatment of some little seen issues in English language films deserve a nod.
The disc itself is very nice. This is the second anamorphic transfer from Disney I've been able to review this week, and this one gets higher marks than My Life So Far. The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation is very nice, with nice blacks and whites, and shadow detail that doesn't obscure the often dark and gritty scenes in the cab. The color palette is muted, though intentionally I believe. Most importantly there were few artifacts and little edge enhancement problems. The Dolby Surround track is all that this film required, and both score and dialogue were clearly defined and detailed. The only problem I had was a personal one; the variety of accents sometimes made dialogue difficult to understand, even though I could hear it clearly enough. Sort of like knowing schoolbook Spanish but listening to those who speak it like a native.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Too much! First there is the whole theme of East vs. West, and the pulls and attractions for both with our characters. This by itself is a nice movie. Then there is the unlikely match between a middle aged, pockmark faced taxi driver and a young prostitute. Fortunately the characters themselves make what could have been an awful joke believable. But you've just added a whole other plot that threatens to overwhelm the main emphasis. Now add in the mullah and followers moving into the home, the domestic indifference and strife between husband and wife, the rising tide of dangerous fundamentalism in the community, scandals dealing with the husband's infidelity, friendships made and broken, and a few others for good measure, and you have a good movie…that would log in at about 12 hours instead of 87 minutes.
Again from Disney, anamorphic seems to be a bone thrown to the buyer who now needs no extras. This one did have its Reel Recommendations, which of course are just a blatant sales ploy instead of a beneficial extra. Usually the films they recommend if you liked the current ones are ludicrous. And lastly, the Alpha keep case. Disney, get back to Amaray please!
Despite it's flaws, My Son the Fanatic is a rich tale that looks at several topics not often seen, and fine performances. I was tempted to make a joke here by saying I wish I didn't have to sit through ANOTHER Pakistani immigrant, generational gap, improbable prostitute relationship film. So perhaps the best thing I can say about the film is it is unique. It's not for everybody, in fact, not really my type of film. The plethora of issues that get short shrift in an 87-minute film lower it's appeal as well. Some of you will like it more than I, and you should rent it. The disc itself is a decent improvement from usual Disney fare, though the lack of extras is still cutting heavily into any improvement of my opinion of them as a whole.
The film is released without further ado, and Disney remains under indictment for failing to provide extra content. Still, they get a nod for releasing a decidedly out-of-character film for the normally mass-market studio, and for a nice anamorphic transfer.
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