The following is a review I wrote for Thread, a new publication on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area, or you can visit their blog version here. Hopefully this will be a somewhat regular thing, so support a really cool new thing!
Iraqi director Karzan Kader’s Bekas tells the story of two young Iraqi shoe-shining orphans, setting out on a journey from their rural town with dreams of meeting Superman in America. Like many films of its ilk, it relies wholly on the charm of its young leads, but their aggressive cuteness can only mask the film’s many problems up to a certain point.
Young, untested actors have the ability to surprise with their naiveté and naturalism, but there simply has to be a very patient, skilled director to wrangle them, which Kader is sadly not. Having these children (and the rest of the cast) bellow their lines at one another begins to grate pretty quickly, and while the film looks terrific, it feels like a very impatient move to not give as much care to the performances as to the look.
There is an interesting wrinkle to Bekas however, but I can’t discern how much is intentional and not just a curious coincidence. It’s important how little Zana (Zamand Taha) and Dana (Sarwar Fazil) know about their planned destination other than what they have gleaned from limited interactions with icons of pop culture. Their travels are inspired by Superman, they risk injury and separation in pursuit of Coca-Cola, and even name their donkey Michael Jackson, but it’s all nothing more than an ideal.
The odd part is the same thing could be said about the film itself. Kader shoehorns in so much Hollywood style, evoking classic westerns, spy films, even a little Star Wars, but the effect is to trivialise the larger issues at play in the story. If it’s an intentional conceit it’s only moderately successful, but it feels more like Kader’s desperate attempt to recreate the movies he’s clearly well versed in, with only the skeleton of a clichéd, and ultimately unresolved story.