REVIEW: "My Son, the Fanatic," a Multi-Dimensional Respite from Today's Shallow Cinema
by Danny Lorber
The work of Hanif Kureishi, the screenwriter of the new film "My Son, The Fanatic," is often overflowing with ideas -- yet so full of ideas about character and plot that he's an anomaly in these days of one dimensional movie makers. In the three of his films that I've seen ("My Beautiful Launderette," "London Kills Me" this, his latest) his topics, ranging form cultural displacement, sexual isolation, human loneliness and extreme leftist politics are all mixed together, creating a very strange yet intriguing stew.
"My Son, the Fanatic" tells the story of Farid (Akbar Kurtha) a twenty-something Pakistani man living in modern-day northern England with his mother and father while dating a fair British women with the intent to marry her. When a meeting of their two families proves so disastrous that the wedding is called off, a seething and disillusioned Farid turns to Islamic fundamentalism in order to soothe his broken heart. His timing is way off because it's just at that moment that his taxi-driving Dad begins a tentative love affair with a young hooker, Bettina (Rachel Griffiths), who he carries from one job to the other.
It's a given that there will be a showdown between father and son, but the joy of "My Son" is watching the grace and compassion with which Kureishi and director Udayan Prasad lead up to it. In the past, Kureishi's work has been wildly, giddily accusatory, indicting racists and homophobes, and England -- and perhaps most importantly -- fathers who inevitably fail and disappoint their children. At his most nimble (which he certainly is here), he makes all these elements twine into a single, seamless piece, one where it's impossible to tell where one social/political/cultural thread begins and another ends. Even at his weakest ("London Kills Me," which he also directed), he manages to snake in shrewd observations about human behavior and the way it mutates under the strain of race and class struggles.
In the new film, Kureishi (who adapted the screenplay from one of his short stories) stares down religious self-righteousness and bigotry while wholeheartedly endorsing a morality of compassion. While the son retreats further and further into conservative, old-world values and tyranny, the father (who worships at the spiritual shrine of classic American jazz and r &b) finds his life opening to all the possibilities of the world just by extending his heart to a social underdog. (That whole set-up is a nifty flip of the usual Kureishi character blueprint.) The acting is sublime in the film, but especially that of Om Puri as the father. He imbues his character with both a wonderful inquisitiveness and a love for life, as well as a sweet dignity that steadies him in the face of the indignities that are heaped on him. At film's end, with his life in tatters, you can't help but sigh along with him when he says, with bittersweet resignation, "I've managed to destroy everything. I've never felt worse. Or better."