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  Lost in Karastan Epic FilmmakingBuy this film here.
Year: 2014
Director: Ben Hopkins
Stars: Matthew Macfadyen, MyAnna Buring, Noah Taylor, Ali Cook, Richard van Weyden, Ümit Ünal, Vedat Erincin, María Fernández Ache, Leo Antadze, Amiran Katchibaia, Lasha Ramishvili, Dato Velijanashvili
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Emil Forester (Matthew Macfadyen) is a film director, or at least that’s what he thinks he is, but the fact remains that after a couple of award-wining successes he is finding inspiration thin on the ground, and he has writer’s block when it comes to working out what his next project should be. With his funds running out – his cleaner Marian (María Fernández Ache) keeps asking him for money he cannot give her – he is trying to deny he’s desperate, but things are not looking good until he is contacted by an East European nation who are seeking to invite him over for their inaugural film festival. If he’s paid, then that will keep the wolves from the door for a while longer, and who knows, inspiration may strike...

Karastan isn’t Azerbaijan, it isn’t Uzbekistan, it isn’t Kazakhstan, but you had to assume it was in that general area for a very specific type of comedy, the satire on filmmaking. What you had to remember was that nobody makes a film about making movies where everything went swimmingly, there was no comedy, never mind drama, in that, so it helped for the story to grow as ridiculous (for humour) or as direly serious (for drama) as possible, depicting the industry of the people actually creating the work as stuffed full of mishaps and misdemeanours as they could. Lost in Karastan sought the middle ground between those two poles, and at times didn’t seem quite able to make up its mind.

So there were some very decent laughs here, but you didn’t take much pleasure in Emil’s downfall as he somehow gets embroiled with Karastan’s cultural life when the President himself (Richard van Weyden) invites him to craft an epic on the subject he himself has chosen, nothing less than the national hero who according to him, everyone in the country looks up to. Before that offer Emil cannot refuse, he has endured a film festival, and indeed a whole society, that seems on the brink of collapse, for example when they get him to introduce one of his award-winning efforts on stage, as the film begins with a heavy sex scene he is horrified to realise the audience is made up of parties of schoolkids.

That culture clash, that sense of almost but not quite falling apart, was what fuelled both the jokes and the more sincere, soul-searching business that played out as the protagonist faffed about being pushed hither and yon, thinking he knows what’s going on but pulled up short time and again when he is confounded by events. There was even a hint of romance with official Chulpan (MyAnna Buring, as striking as ever), a mysterious presence who guides him through this chaos but comes across so enigmatic that Emil has difficulty reading her purpose and thoughts; she seems interested, but is she doing this for the sake of her job, the President, her country, or some other, unknown to him agency? Her most telling lines inform us she likes films that have you thinking, “What?” once they reach their conclusion.

Which may well the be the reaction to Lost in Karastan for many people, though not necessarily in a bad way, as there were indications that bafflement with life is very much a natural state to be in the modern world where everything has become so complicated, with so much tugging in different directions, that you get the impression nobody really knows what the Hell is happening and those who claim to are merely bluffing. So where does this leave Emil? In spite of being told this film he’s making will never be finished, he ploughs onwards, making an enemy of his assistant for asking him to do things for him, working with an imported star (Noah Taylor, amusingly over the top) who is overfond of the bottle, and pining after Chulpan when anyone else can see that ain’t gonna happen. In spite of having fun with their premise, writer-director Ben Hopkins and his co-writer, erstwhile director Pawel Pawlikowski, conveyed a sense of disappointment in the medium, as if their chosen form of expression took so much out of them it barely gave anything back. Music by Andreas Lucas.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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