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Thursday, June 20, 2013

"My Son the Fanatic" 1997 Hanif Kureishi, Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths. Shoddy Art, Repugnant Politics, Brilliant Performances by Puri and Griffiths



"My Son the Fanatic," writer Hanif Kureishi and director Udayan Prasad's 1997 film about Farid, an English-born Pakistani boy who becomes a devout Muslim who firebombs a brothel, is a train wreck. Its art is shoddy and its politics are repugnant. But Om Puri as Parvez, the taxi-driver father of the fanatic son, gives a performance that is solid gold. Rachel Griffiths, as a prostitute, is brilliant.

Parvez (Om Puri) is a taxi driver in a depressed English mill town. He befriends Bettina (Griffiths) a prostitute. He works for a monstrous German sex tourist named S---t. Parvez's son, Farid, is engaged to the lovely Madeline Fingerhut, daughter of the chief of police.  Farid breaks off his engagement and becomes the Muslim "fanatic" of the title. Parvez tries to stop his son's fanaticism. He also enters into an affair with Bettina, the prostitute, who loves him.

"My Son the Fanatic" struggles to combine several disparate themes and subplots. It is never successful because it never probes deeply enough into any of its material. The film ends ambiguously; the viewer has no idea how any of the story strands will resolve themselves.

The two most powerful features of the film, the only real reason to see the film, are Om Puri and Rachel Griffiths. They are very different and they are both powerhouses. Om Puri feels like a beating heart. He is totally believable, irresistibly lovable, and charismatic. Puri had smallpox when he was two and his face is cratered. These scars just make you stare at him all the more.

Rachel Griffiths is perfect as Bettina, the stereotypical "hooker with a heart of gold." She's smart, and she's in pain.

In spite of their age and culture differences, Parvez and Bettina's love is completely believable and poignant. It's clear that Parvez's wife Minoo is not providing him with passion, respect, or either emotional or physical intimacy. She calls him a "useless idiot," and at one point it appears she may leave him to go back to Pakistan. While Parvez resists his son's fanaticism, Minoo supports it.

You really want to know – can a man fall in love with a prostitute? Parvez's friend Fizzy reminds him cruelly that Bettina has been penetrated by thousands of men. Could Parvez ever get over that? Could Parvez and Minoo separate in a way that worked for them both and spared them both great pain? Could Bettina settle down with one man? Could the couple survive the disdain of respectable people? Again, the chemistry between Parvez and Bettina is so compelling you really want the film to attempt to answer any of these questions. In fact, it answers none. Sadly, Parvez and Bettina are merely Hanif Kureishi's little wind-up toys. He has zero respect or affection for his own characters. Kureishi created Parvez and Bettina just to make his own, repugnant, political point. They are agitprop.

With the exception of Madeline Fingerhut, who is onscreen for about 120 seconds, every last Westerner the innocent Muslims encounter is a racist, a prostitute, or a monster. The thrust of "My Son the Fanatic" is this. Innocent, decent Pakistani Muslims immigrate to England and are confronted by orgies, naked women selling their bodies in the streets, racism, violence, and booze. The film is graphic and disgusting. There are gratuitous scenes of Bettina being used by her johns. The German sex tourist S– is depicted abusing men and women and hosting orgies. There is no logic in this; this man is shown to be ridiculously wealthy. A sex tourist with that kind of money would not travel to some grim northern English mill town.

S–-, the German sex tourist for whom Parvez works, is named after feces. He is utterly disgusting. There are graphic scenes of his exploitation of Bettina. Later, she is shown with bruises from his beatings. He also beats Parvez. When Parvez goes out, he is cruelly mocked by an English comedian. There is no other English life depicted in "My Son the Fanatic." Not a single English person is kind to children or animals. The English are all violent, sexually perverse, racist scum. Farid becomes a fanatic after Madeline's father is rude to him. "You are the only pig I've ever wanted to eat," Farid tells his future father-in-law. All this graphic perversion is thrust into the viewer's face to emphasize: innocent, decent Muslims are forced by Western ugliness to become terrorists.

Okay, let's rejoin planet Earth, shall we? On May 21, 2013, the BBC reported on 54 separate child sex slave rings in England run by Pakistani men. The descriptions of the activities of these gangs are nightmarish. Western Civilization did not corrupt these men; their corruption was already installed. And as for the charge that racism forces otherwise innocent men to become fanatics; please see Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarneav, two beloved, funded, coddled, immigrants who arrived in the US as "refugees." The refuge the US gave these men was used by them to murder innocents.

The London Times named Hanif Kureishi one of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945." Given the shoddiness of the plotting and characterization of "My Son the Fanatic," and its skewed politics, one has to wonder why.

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