Emil Forester (Matthew Macfadyen), a filmmaker living in London suffering from director’s block gets a phone call one day from Chulpan (Myanna Buring), a mysterious woman from the ‘autonomous republic of Karastan’ described late in the film as “a woman with many layers, each on a surface”. She invites him to visit the country and attend the Palchuk Film Festival, where on arrival he meets the eccentric, and drunk, local celebrity Xan Butler (Noah Taylor).
Emil thinks that he is there to introduce his previous films, but instead Chulpan has arranged a meeting with the charismatic dictator President Abashiliev, who wants him to direct the inspiring epic story of Karastan’s national hero with the unpredictable Xan. Uneasy about his obvious outsider status, Emil tries to understand the history and mythology of the country, but just feels more and more alienated…
A lot of jokes are made about the scale of corruption: from the obvious ‘problems’ at border control that require a cash bribe, to the much funnier moment when a security guard checks Emil for weapons at the presidents palace immediately after an initial check in case “the last guy put a gun on you”… Eastern Europe and Russia have always been easy targets for British comedians, but the film is played straight with a dark humour instead of relying on (only) funny-accented caricatures.
The film is shot on location in Georgia and has a dramatic and realistic visual style, which makes the awkwardness feel more like the dark TV classic The League Of Gentleman than the more obvious comparison Borat movie.
One of the funniest and darkest moments occurs early on where Emil is dragged off of the street into a dark room where a spotlight is shone on him, blinding his view of the audience. Only when the film begins does he realise that the totally wrong audience are about to watch his very inappropriate film…
A comedy about film festivals is the perfect way to open a comedy film festival programme. And for anyone with an interest in film pre-production/production there are plenty of funny scenes and dialogue about casting, locations and scriptwriting, and then the inevitably amateur film shoot itself.
It is definitely not the funniest film that you will see at this years festival, but writer/director Ben Hopkins has made a really gripping film about individual and national ego and although essentially a classic fish-out-of-water comedy, is a dark and funny insight into filmmaking and storytelling.
Lost in Karastan is the opening gala film for the 2015 LOCO Film Festival and plays Thursday 22nd at BFI Southbank