Film Review: Lost in Karastan

Coming to you from a newly autonomous republic somewhere in the vast plains of the Caucasus is a real oddity. Lost in Karastan - the latest offering from British filmmaker Ben Hopkins - is difficult to pin down. Modelling itself as a satirical black comedy interrogating the nature of creativity, art vs. love, and what constitutes national identity, Hopkins ventures into unknown Eastern European territory and gets completely lost. Without a map, or any semblance of a plan, he leaves his audience helplessly stranded there. Despite apparently noble intentions, and what must constitute a healthy dose of personal experience from the film-within-a-film scenario chosen by the director and his co-screenwriter Pawel Pawlikowksi, Lost in Karastan is a frustratingly fruitless endeavour.

As stunted auteurist genius Emil Forester, Matthew Macfadyen sits in his Swiss Cottage flat suffering a serious case of writer's block. A phone call out of the blue from a woman in a country he has never heard of whisks him away to Karastan's first ever film festival which is showcasing his back catalogue. Bemoaning the state of western cinema as little more than "comic book heroes or depressed people in kitchens", Emil revels in being a big fish in a small pond. Macfadyen does well in expressing a similar level of bemusement and mild irritation to a viewer, persistently kept in the dark and therefore groping for any sort of real engagement or understanding as to what is going on. Enlisted by the decidedly shady leader of the fledgling state - who kills people who disagree with him - Emil begins work on an historical epic to affirm some much needed national identity to a global audience: "Who had even heard of Scotland before Braveheart or Notting Hill before Notting Hill?"

His is a caricaturish, woefully underwritten part which is sadly emblematic of the entire script. Worse still is Noah Taylor's turn as obnoxious movie star Xan Butler which is one the actor will want to forget ever occurred. Emil is assisted by Karastan cultural attaché, Chulpan (Macfadyen's Ripper Street co-star MyAnna Buring) whose beauty does not go unnoticed by the lovelorn Englishman. A former heartbreak and their nascent union are as thinly sketched as the rest of a narrative which hits stereotypes left, right and centre: the locals drink vodka, the airport officials are corrupt, the people rise up against the new regime and cows are the currency of choice. "Karastan lacks definition" says the unhinged president. Sadly, Lost in Karastan is much the same.

Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens


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