Set in a fictitious former Soviet-bloc republic, Ben Hopkins’ Lost in Karastan is a very British satire about a very British film director adrift in a totalitarian dictatorship.
This Gun For Hireby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Washed up, with no projects on the horizon and facing a professional dead end, film director Emil Forester (subtly comic Matthew Macfadyen) is flattered by an invitation out of the blue to represent an obscure film of his at a festival in the newly Autonomous Republic of Karastan. Once there, he swiftly realises it is, in fact, their first film festival, badly organised and ultimately pointless. And, as an arty London liberal, he suffers culture shock at the dismal, grey and dilapidated nation’s capital (in fact, Tbilisi), the overbearing atmosphere of oppression and propaganda, and the consequences of being a foreign visitor – he’s never alone because he’s trailed by a poorly disguised minder everywhere he tries to go.
But before he’s allowed to leave, the President (German Richard van Weyden) makes him an offer that is both ego-boosting and, he realises, dangerous to refuse. He wants him to direct a vainglorious epic about Karastan’s historic national hero – Tanat – promising him an unlimited budget. He clutches at this straw of reviving his career and filming starts in an inhospitable location threatened by rebel incursions – though amid the scenically stunning steppes and mountains of Georgia – with a drunken and unreliable lead actor (Noah Taylor, Edge of Tomorrow) and hostile local peasants press-ganged as extras. “Film is something for children and the mentally disabled,” an ancient man tells him contemptuously.
Forester starts to realise he’s out of his depth in the politics of the country, he’s been comprehensively lied to and he is, in fact, just a servant making image-building propaganda for a failing dictator. “This country is collapsing and he thinks a film is the answer,” says the cynical minister of culture of the president. “This is a film that will never get made,” he warns Forester. MyAnna Buring (Kill List) is Chulpan, the beautiful, enigmatic woman deputed to be Forester’s guide – and a potential honey trap. She’s the festival organiser in Karastan but gradually reveals herself as much more than this.
Lost in Karastan is a lowish budget film that leverages on its unique location filming to come up with much more than it initially seemed to promise. What seems a lowish-key satire on the overreaching ambitions of both dictators and filmmakers turns out to have a depth that ultimately surprises. Screenplay is by award-winning filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida and The Woman in the Fifth) and Ben Hopkins (The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz) who also directs it. It’s an unusual British film that has ambitions beyond the prevailing London-gangs mode, and it’s well worth a look.
Lost In Karastan is released on 22nd January 2015 in the UK