Lost in Karastan DVD Review
2.0Overall Score

Emil Forester. You know the name – or you would, if Lost in Karastan weren’t fictional. He’s a director whose glory has walked out the door along with his beautiful movie star wife, and now he lazes around his flat as the cleaner he can’t really afford picks up his rubbish and scribbles “toilet duck” on his unfilled page of new creative ideas. Matthew Macfadyen looks sufficiently dishevelled, an awkward marriage of choppy, overgrown hair and dandyish scarves as the  fatigued director who is unexpectedly summoned to the country of Karastan for a retrospective of his work at their capital’s film festival. Cue a sharp cut to the title card, and bam, he’s at the passport gate in the middle of god knows where, and the film’s whirl of satire has launched.

The tradition of satiricial comedies set in fictional despotic countries is brief but mostly glittering: the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, and, if we’re being generous, Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator. Director and co-writer’s Ben Hopkins film is more interested in the moral struggle of the conceited director than the maniacal ruler he encounters, and the mocking of this strange country’s population feels bitterer and more dismissive as a result. “These are, how you say… retard people,” says Emil’s assigned right-hand man after a painfully disastrous encounter with the townspeople gathered to work on the film the director has been persuaded to make in the country, a “national epic” that will put this country on the map.

lost-in-karastan-dvdGiven how generous and sharp co-writer Pawel Pawlikowski was in the portrayal of national identity in his Oscar-winning film Ida, the lazy cultural stereotyping drawn through both character and place is especially disappointing. Corruption greets Emil as soon as his plane lands, and people live in decrepit housing blocks, gathering en masse as a strange, intimidating force against the artistic Emil. Initially, the script’s seeming refusal to identify with either the arrogant Emil or the peculiar Karastan people is intriguing, but the lack of emotional investment throughout means the film soon wears thin. Emil’s beautiful liaison, Chulpan (MyAnna Buring), is the film’s most intriguing character, presenting herself with a knowing sharpness, but the film insists on unpacking her duplicity in the most inevitable fashion. Buring sells her most dramatic scene with her bright eyes brimming with sudden honesty, but the character feels fundamentally short-changed.

The essential problem with Lost in Karastan is the lack of much actual satirical bite. Emil briefly decries the limited horizons of the film industry for his dwindling career, and posters of his famous ex-wife predictably decorate the streets of the city, but given how quickly the film shuts itself off in Karastan, it can’t really engage with the filmmaking world at large. On the other foot, lampooning the Middle East in general is already a tired concept, but there’s little conception of how these countries actually function in the machinations that go on here as Emil is hooked into telling the state-funded history. Lost in Karastan is really at a loss for anything insightful to say.

Lost in Karastan is now available on DVD.

About The Author

Born in Birmingham and now living in London, David took a love of cinema through two degrees, capping them off with a dissertation on Julianne Moore. (He likes to think he helped her win the Oscar.) He currently works in commercial advertising at Hearst UK and watches as many films as he can in his spare time. You can frequently find him beholden to the visage of Jessica Chastain.

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