Lost in Karastan (15) | Close-Up FIlm Review


Dir. Ben Hopkins, Germany/UK/Georgia/ France, 2014, 96 mins

Cast:  Matthew Macfadyen, MyAnna Buring, Noah Taylor,

Although the title has echoes of Sasha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” character, this is actually a wild and sometimes wooly satire on the film business itself, specifically the world of the avant garde independent  film maker.  As director Hopkins and his co-writer Pawel Pawlikowski have wide experience of the art film scene and festival circuit, I suspect they were drawing on their own experience of crazy film festivals and traumatic shoots for this one.

Their protagonist Emil Forester (Macfadyen) is however somewhat low rent compared to his creators.   Pawlikowski won the Foreign Film Oscar last year as well as a clutch of prestige festival awards in the past and Hopkins has a respectable collection of statuettes and such on his mantelpiece too.  Whereas the hapless Emil, when we first meet him in his dingy London flat, has one solitary award to his name and hasn’t been able to find anyone to fund his projects for years.  Then comes an invitation to show his last film at the “Karastan – Land of Inspiration” Film Festival.   Never heard of it?   Neither has Emil but an all expenses paid trip to an obscure Caucasian Republic mounting its first film festival is not to be sneezed at.

The event turns out to be every sort of chaos and cock up you can imagine.  All our Western cliché expectations of Eastern Europe, from the immigration officer demanding a bribe to the mysterious man in a leather coat shadowing Emil and a dictator president of the country  (Richard van Weyden), who describes himself pretty accurately as “owning the people”.  Emil does though have the consoling company of the beautiful festival hostess Chulpan (Buring), who is with him as the somewhat pornographic opening scene of his film hits the screen and he realises to his horror that the audience is largely made up of schoolchildren.  “We are a young festival”, she explains airily.

Chulpan is also on hand when the president invites Emil to direct a long cherished idea he has for an epic film about Karastan’s national legend Tanat, who was raised by eagles.  Lots of horses, lots of battles, money no object.  President Abashiliev owns the country and all that is in it remember.  And playing Tanat, the original action hero of Karastan, will be Hollywood star Xan Butler (Taylor), an uncontrollable alcoholic has-been, whom Emil has already encountered at the festival.   Everything is on track for disaster, but heck, it is Emil’s chance to make another film.

This movie is a bit mad but a lot of it is fun, although the satire may in places be a bit obscure if you’ve never ever been on a film set or at a film festival.   Macfadyen looks suitably bewildered and stressed throughout, aware that in this strange land “everyone knows something I don’t”, while  Buring with her enigmatic, slanting cats’ eyes is nicely cast as the sexy Eastern European eye candy, who has more to her than is at first apparent.

This is an interesting if sometimes chaotic depiction of the art film world, which has plenty to amuse, even if at times it loses its satirical edge.

Review by Carol Allen