Category Archives: International Films

My Name Is Khan

Quite simply, this was one of the most beautiful, hopeful films I’ve seen in a very, very long time. Honestly, I’m almost afraid to try to convey what an uplifting story it is, for fear of cheapening it somehow. I have no idea how a film this good could have been largely ignored, and not received any major awards.

It tells the story of Rizvan Khan, a Muslim man from Mumbai who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that allows him to be high functioning, but incapable of normal socialization.  As an adult, he follows his brother to America, where he eventually marries a Hindu woman.  After the events of 9/11, their lives become complicated by nascent racial prejudice directed toward anyone who even LOOKS middle eastern.  A tragedy eventually sends Rizvan on a sort of Quixotic quest that reveals a great deal about the nature and shape of hatred and racism in America, and the rest of the world.

We seem to live in an era that is dominated by stories of greed, corruption, violence, and hatred.  These things are so common that we accept them as components of our society and culture, at times without question.  Our entertainment has come to reflect this cynicism, making pessimism feel hip.  Yet this film dares to present a simple tale of hope that doesn’t depend on false sentiment to get its message across. It dares to suggest that small acts by insignificant people can change the heart of a nation, even a world.  Cutting through all the complications of style and form, the film speaks to viewers at the very essence of their humanity.

While there may be those who criticize “My Name Is Khan” for being hopeful to a fault, for veering too far into the realm of optimistic fantasy, I’m not one of them. The core of this story is not measured in degrees of realism; it is in the way it conveys a sense that human beings, despite their faults, their prejudices, and their indifference, can find ways to connect with the people around them even when circumstances are at their worst.  Perhaps the strength of the film lies in the way it suggests that such optimism may not be common, but this does not mean is non-existent.

Highly recommended.

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A Somewhat Gentle Man

In this exceptional and understated Norwegian film, Stellan Skarsgard plays Ulrik, a man recently released from prison after serving a 12 year sentence for killing his wife’s lover.  The premise of the story is how he has to adjust to life as an ex-con, while contending with some of his former associates coming forward to ask more “favors” of him.  From this point on, the film pulls the rug out from underneath just about every film cliché Hollywood might use to tell a similar story.

While watching the movie, one gets the sense that the characters are not built on standard archetypes, but on unique individuals that have unusual quirks and idiosyncracies which make them seem more real than the cookie-cutter characters populating slick crime movies.  The banter between lowlife hoods Jensen and Rolf, who are trying to coerce Ulrik into doing one more job for them, is absurd and refreshingly funny.  Their arguments over proper word choice in a sentence has more originality in a few minutes of screen time, than just about everything Tarantino wrote for Pulp Fiction.

This film has all sorts of opportunities to play it safe and rely on the usual tropes to develop scenes, and nearly every time, it undercuts them in attempt to create something wholly original.  A thin strand of sub-plot, involving the lonely woman who rents a room to Ulrik, is intentionally clumsy and ugly, yet laced with cynical humor.  The first “love scene” between the two of them defies description, and is one viewers may never completely excise from their memory.

The film is in Norwegian with English subtitles.

Running time is 105 minutes.  Total theatrical gross in the U.S. was a whopping $35, 583 after playing on 1 screen.