Title: Lost In Karastan
Director: Ben Hopkins
Major Players: Matthew McFadyen, MyAnna Buring, Noah Taylor
Out Of Five: 2.5
Borat has a lot to answer for. It may be ten years since Sacha Baron Cohen’s “cultural ambassador” from Kazakhstan poked merciless fun at former Soviet countries, but his legacy is hasn’t faded. Eastern Europeans are still an easy target, which may account for Ben Hopkins inventing a similar sounding country as the setting for his latest comedy.
He’s also co-written the script with no less than Pawel Pawlikowski, who was behind the beautiful Oscar winning Ida, but judging from the film it seems that the bulk of the screenplay came from Hopkins. Why? That’ll become apparent all too soon. In the meantime, the story concerns film director, Emil Forester (Matthew McFadyen). Despite the awards trophies in his flat, he’s all washed up when it comes to work and money. Out of the blue, he’s invited to attend the first film festival in former Soviet republic, Karastan, so he goes along and finds himself invited by the country’s president to make a film about the country’s folk hero. Saying no isn’t an option.
We all know that the film industry loves to make movies about itself and, better still, have a laugh at the expense of the business. Forester’s shoot is less than straightforward and we feel much the same in deciding the actual target for the film’s humour. Is it the film industry? If so, then it’s patchy and more miss than hit. So perhaps it’s trying to be more in tune with Borat, aiming itself at strange foreigners with even stranger cultures. That’s closer to the mark as much of the attempts at laughs come from clashing cultures: the food, the locals, the president who tells Forester not to disagree with him “because everybody who disagrees with me gets shot.” There’s a surprise.
That may be the target but that doesn’t mean that Hopkins is a good shot. Thankfully, there are some moments that genuinely raise a giggle, especially one liners delivered in that characteristically flat Eastern European accent. Or there’s the scene at the film festival when one of Forester’s films which opens with a vigorously copulating couple has an audience of ten year olds. Unfortunately, there are far more that don’t come off and that’s because they’re telegraphed so far in advance that the laugh has fizzled out by the time it’s supposed to arrive.
The strange thing about the film is that it feels and looks like it was originally made for the small screen, but somebody had the bright idea that more money could be made by giving it a limited cinematic release and putting it out on digital at the same time. Whether that will swell the coffers remains to be seen, but it doesn’t stop the film looking ill at ease on a big screen. There’s also the distinct sense of having seen this all before. Maybe that’s partly down to the soundtrack which sounds like it’s related to the music from the gleeful What We Do In The Shadows. It could learn a lot about comedy from the vampire spoof.
Lost In Karastan is something of a let-down and Matthew McFadyen gets the sympathy vote. Not just because his character looks lost, but he does as well and you can’t blame him. Perhaps he was missing Borat ……
Lost In Karastan goes on limited release on Friday, 22 January and is reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 21 January.