My Son the Fanatic, When Love Comes

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:22

    My Son the Fanatic directed by Udayan Prasad Taxi Driver A remnant from the 80s when multicultiwas chic, international smart aleck Hanif Kureishi grows up with My Son theFanatic. He has finally found a sober, wise use for that spark of intelligenceand humor first seen in his screenplay for My Beautiful Laundrette but latersquandered in the movies Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and his own directorial debutLondon Kills Me. They were all intellectual Hellzapoppins with varied degreesof dramatic coherence. Since Laundrette, each subsequent Kureishi film woreon your tolerance for sarcastic social critique. It's surprising Kureishi could getover the youthful effrontery that seemed to fuel his stories of ethnic, sexualand political outrage and sustain his talent. His interest in immigrant experienceas a vision of the century's great social changes and spiritual confusion isstill vital, but this new story of Parvez, a middle-aged Pakistan-born cabby,ambivalent about his new home in Northern England, resolves effrontery for ardency.My Son the Fanatic combines Parvez's passions (his Western cultural fascination,his traditional tribal ties and his inbred regret) into an essential, achinglove story: As Parvez wrestles with his experience of Western decline his belovedson grows away from him. There were sketches of this generationalagony in the subplot of Sammy and Rosie (really its only interestingscenes, richly performed by Shashi Kapoor as Sammy's magnanimous father). And the subplot here, of Parvez's romance with Bettina, one of his white Britishprostitute-clients, recalls the cross-cultural affair between the uncle anda white woman (Saeed Jaffrey and Shirley Ann Field) in Laundrette. ButParvez's dilemma feels more deeply etched. He's stretched between family obligationand personal desire; his work life in a sordid social world and his ethicalquandary; then he's tantalized by the pop expression of dreams that ministerto his daily fatigue. After 12-hour taxi shifts, Parvez returns to his homemakerwife and college-age son and then retreats to his basement lair for a scotch and his collection of vinyl records (Brook Benton and Dinah Washington's "ARockin' Good Way," Louis Armstrong's "Back O' Town Blues," JimmyWitherspoon's "T'aint Nobody's Business")-a treasury as nostalgicas it is poignant. "What's wrong with Louis Armstrong?" Parvez asks.His wife Minoo (Gopi Desai), feeling neglected, can only grouse, "It'stoo trumpety!" Parvez's life, an existential jugglingact, contains the emotional tumult and political anxiety of the multiculturalera without seeming merely trendy. India-born actor Om Puri (City of Joy,In Custody) fully embodies the dilemma-the constant, trenchant fact of multiculturalism.It's in Puri's dark, shining eyes; the tireless desire projecting out of hispockmarked face defines human aspiration. Puri's expressive efficiency and thetensile strength apparent in his Pakistani-turned-British singsong are trueto the held-in intelligence of those Asian newsstand-workers and merchants whoact reserved from the new world they've "embraced." Parvez's innerlife is not fully expressed in the driver's seat of his cab. He's made a voyeurof the West that attracts him, the liberated intellectual and sexual life thathas colonized then betrayed him. This universal voyeur is, ironically,rarely seen onscreen. But Puri enacts Parvez's dignity so that we recognizein him the figure of the sharp, ironical British black that Salman Rushdie usedto represent in his mid-80s lectures on racism and imperialism, and that Kureishihimself simultaneously embodied in a younger, flippant mode. But Parvez aptlydramatizes that ambivalence precisely because he isn't a pontificator; he'sstifled, exploited yet always, uncomfortably conscious. On the road, he's hiredto round up a group of prostitutes for business conventions by German entrepreneurSchitz (Stellan Skarsgard in another shrewdly conceived portrait of white politicalhypocrisy as in Amistad). Pimping for others is a cruder version of themarriage Parvez attempts to arrange for his son Farid (Akbar Kurtha) to thedaughter of the town's top white policeman. Kureishi sketches the economic andcultural reasons for Parvez's pandering. Angling to move forward seems the onlychoice in a debased culture. It portrays an immigrant's uneasy, unavoidableexchange of values. When Parvez gets stoned while playing his r&b records,the film suggests the broad, international range of personal suffering-and survival-fromsocial exploitation. Parvez's efforts to secure an empowered life for his sonmake pathetic the spectacle of a man attempting to redeem his own idealism.And Kureishi takes it further: Young Farid is also pushed to extremes; he joinsan Islamic fundamentalist cult to oppose the culture that has duped his fatherand corrupted the only world he knows. Both these impotent dreams clash wittilywhen Parvez ups the volume on his stereo to irritate Farid's listening to anIslamic instruction record. But the father-son confrontation climaxes when Farid invites a Maulvi, the sect's leader, to bivouac in the home (replacing Parvez'sauthority) and direct a religious purge of the town's red-light district. Religion lingers even in the mosturbane immigrant condition (an issue Charles Burnett also addressed in ToSleep With Anger). For Kureishi it's part of the identity that sustainsand arms England's transplanted-and native-born-blacks. He doesn't advocatebeyond suggesting religion's significance to the experience of difference andintegration. Farid's rhetoric against "The white and Jewish propagandathat there is nothing to our lives but the empty accountancy of things!"states the urgency of the dilemma with the factionalism (and bigotry) made clearand the desperation, too. It's been a long time (maybe since Laundrette?)that a movie has so positively examined these antagonisms. In The Black Album, his 1995novel about immigrant intellectuals, Kureishi described how a young man's brother"had loaned him Mean Streets and Taxi Driver as preparation.But they were eventful films that hadn't steadied him for such mundane poverty."And though My Son the Fanatic's action is primarily in character conflict(well suited to director Udayan Prasad's tactful pace and staging) it is very much an extension of Scorsese's social issues. If Travis Bickle lacked whiteprivilege, his story would be like Parvez's. Kureishi and Prasad are aware ofthe privileges of passage denied Parvez, that influence his isolation. It alsogives him special identification with the prostitutes on his routes. Bettina tells Parvez, "You'vegot to give Farid a better philosophy." The hooker and the cabby become allies in the film's brief, unusual depiction of friendship. It becomes sexualbut it's primarily platonic; they couple through their need for understanding.(This white love-interest, featuring Rachel Griffiths as Bettina, may be a commercialploy as much as it is Kureishi's sincere social expression.) It adds anotherlayer to Parvez's dilemma in which appetite conflicts with proper faith andcustom. When a friend, a successful yet groveling restaurateur, complains aboutBettina's profession ("Thousands of dicks!") Parvez answers, "Youare too certain what other people should do." Protesting a life "sitting behind the wheel without having a human touch," Om Puri makes Parvez'slongings soulful. The film's title is still one ofthose Kureishi wisecracks; it's meant to be surly and sarcastic but, above all,to be taken seriously. It suggests satirical impudence, outsider's threat andstrange affection. Parvez looks at the anger stirred up in his son, feels thedistance between their stressed manhoods and recalls, "When you were aninfant I would get up in the middle of the night just to look at your face. For you it was just growing up and for me it is the best of life itself." All Kureishi's previous smart workseems to have led up to the richness of Parvez's complication. Kureishi hadnot, previously, evoked such individual yearning and yet it's got good wide-ranging pertinence, too. He even reprises a scene from Truffaut's The Soft Skin:Parvez, alone in his house, missing his wife and child, walks from room to roomturning on the lights-and Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love."Kureishi turns vintage movies and vintage r&b into politically adept introspection.Not a bad way for a trendy to mature. When Love Comes directed by Garth Maxwell If Rena Owen were as identifiablywhite as Gwyneth Paltrow or Cate Blanchett, she would by now be acclaimed asa great actress. Her performance in the 1994 Once Were Warriors as a Maori womancontending with her lot in a traditional masculinist culture (as cook, bottle-washer,babymaker and punching bag) was multileveled. Rugged, tender, sexy and franticallyintelligent, she was a woman improvising her way through life. But Owen's redhair and ruddy complexion never garnered the Third World condescension accordedactress Fernanda Montenegro in Central Station. Owen must have seemed too other.(Reaching for hyperbole, the New Yorker critic compared Montenegro to GiuliettaMasina, Jeanne Moreau and Bette Davis, then ended up blatantly praising her"aristocratic" standing in Brazilian theater. All that, just to denythat Oprah Winfrey in Beloved was the year's most commanding lead female performance.) In the new multi-sex comedy-dramaWhen Love Comes, Owen has another good role as Katie Keen, a 70s discoqueen still working that one-hit-wonder in Las Vegas nightclubs. She comes backhome to New Zealand with a "killer hangover from all those bars, motelsand stages." Love-weary herself, she watches her oldest friend Stephen(Simon Prast) anguish over a bisexual young songwriter, Mark (Dean O'Gorman,a Matthew McConaughey type, but young and comely). The disco-diva muse fits a film about unisex confusion. And the subplot of Mark's lesbian friends singinghis songs in their own rock act may give the film a coy framing device, butit widens the view of romantic behavior. Mark, the riot boy, authors the girlpunks' expressions of sexual anxiety. Katie Keen doesn't merely look on; hersongs (like Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Crystal Waters' "100%Pure Love," Alison Limerick's "Where Love Lives" or Billie RayMartin's "Your Loving Arms") have inspired this transgendered, universalsophistication. Owen's Katie, like Om Puri's Parvez,is the kind of credible, empathetic role serious actors would kill for. In asensible heart-to-heart with Stephen, Katie advises patience and sincerity aboutthe wild youth: "He's just trying to work it out like we are." Wisdomfrom the mouth of an old babe. Think of the story behind the story of the PetShop Boys-Dusty Springfield single "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" Owen's hard yet sympathetic face has strange tranny suggestions, but mostlyshe's striking, an emblem of female struggle still respected in Third Worldcultures because Hollywood has never undertaken to glamorize, falsify or notice.