‘You want me to direct your national epic?’
Film director Emil Forester finds film funny in the state of Karastan, just not in a particularly amusing way. He’s been ‘between jobs’ for a while and is living at home with dog Wolfy and not paying his cleaner Marian (María Fernández Ache). When he is randomly offered the chance to be a guest at a film festival, introducing his work in a country that he has never heard of but is probably somewhere in the Caucasus, he takes the opportunity. On arrival he has to negotiate passport control and a vast array of other issues that he had never considered might be problematic but at least the residents of Karastan want him to be there at the festival. Or do they? How much is his presence part of a wider state controlled plan? From the moment of his arrival the billboard signs decreeing an adoration of President Abashiliev (Richard van Weyden) are all too clear and the president’s domination of the country apparently totally part of the peoples’ will, to the extent of he coerces Forester into making a film for him. And the people, of course.
Lost in Karastan is a comedy with an emphasis on film-making in the context of Borat-style cultural chaos. This is a film about film with the ‘making-of’ elements inherent to the plot, and shot such that different ratios and cuts are part of the film as it progresses. So, black and white photography mix with colour, widescreen mixes with Academy ratio and handheld camerawork contrasts with tracking shots. Although not pumped full of laugh out load gags Lost in Karastan is amusing in its situations and revelations. Forester misses Wolfy the dog from back home at England and is distraught at constantly seeing photos of his estranged wife, a model, advertising the local vodka Tanat everywhere on posters. Tanat is named for a local hero, apparently raised by an eagle, who is to form the basis of the film Forester is to make, after the multitude of troubles he encounters at the festival that is meant to be saluting him, including a screening to under 14 year olds of his art-sex film.
President Abashiliev is the dictator who declares that ‘people who disagree with me get shot,’ but the first Karastanian Emil meets is Chulpan (MyAnna Buring), clearly the love interest, although she could be a mole for the leader, or anyone else. Add in additional participants, including former friend and occasional drunk, Xan Butler (Noah Taylor) and things are likely to go very wrong indeed, especially when he is cast as the lead hero Tanat.
This is a comedy in which the characters are faced with different cultures and presumed ignorance, where presidential supremacy meets nationalistic stupidity. This moves the tone away from the Borat-style naive nonsense, although the film contains masses of that, and into the realm of comedy drama. Enjoyable film for fans of film and absurdity which switches between silly and surreal. Consistently entertaining, if not hilarious.