Lost in Karastan

 

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Karastan is an imaginary Eastern European country, the setting for this comedy played out against a serious background.


Leaving the cast aside, the name that leaps out from the credits here is not that of Ben Hopkins the director and co-writer but that of Pawel Pawlikowski, who shares the writing credit as well as being an executive producer. That is not surprising because, although Hopkins is known for such idiosyncratic features as The Nine Lives of Thomas Katz (2000) and 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep (2006), Pawlikowski’s name is today by far the better known. The 2015 Oscar winner Ida set in Poland is Pawlikowski’s most celebrated work, but earlier films made in England had already established him. However, his contribution here is unexpected, and all the more so because this is a comedy and that is not a genre that we associate with Pawlikowski.

  

Lost in Karastan

Eastern promises: Richard van Weyden

  

The first half of Lost in Karastan comes across as a parody of lesser known film festivals. Film director Emil Forester (Matthew Macfadyen) is a faded talent living in London who readily accepts an invitation to an Eastern European country, Karastan, which has its own international film festival sponsored by a vodka company at which a retrospective of his work is to be presented. On arrival he is less happy to find a Hollywood actor known for his bad behaviour, Xan Butler played by Noah Taylor, stealing the limelight. The various mishaps are reasonably engaging, but then the film moves on to fresh ground. We discover that the country’s president (Richard Van Weyden), himself a cinema enthusiast, wants Forester to direct a film. It is to be an epic expressing Karastan’s national identity and Butler is to play the hero. It sounds like a folly, but Forester can do with the work and, besides, people who disagree with the president get shot.

 

Elements to please film buffs remain in place (there’s a joke about Klaus Kinski for instance), but the balance between the humour and the serious portrayal of life in a country dominated by rival factions becomes uneasy. The bleakness of a repressive society is felt ever more strongly and the true role of the film’s leading female character, Chulpan (MyAnna Buring), who acts according to the president’s orders proves to be linked to the political situation. Unfortunately the comedy undermines the drama and vice versa, and in consequence Lost in Karastan emerges as no more than mildly interesting.
 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Matthew Macfadyen, Noah Taylor, MyAnna Buring, Richard Van Weyden, Ümit Ünal.

 

Dir Ben Hopkins, Pro Mike Downey, Vladimer Katcharava and Sam Taylor, Screenplay Pawel Pawlikowski and Hopkins, Ph Jörg Gruber, Pro Des Mamuka Esadze and Kote Japaridze, Ed Alan Levy, Music Andreas Lucas, Costumes Keti Kalandadze.

 

Stealth Media Group/a Film & Music Entertainment production/Brandstorm Entertainment/20 Steps etc.-Bulldog Film Distributors.
96 mins. UK/Germany/Russia/Georgia. 2014. Rel: 22 January 2016. Cert. 15.