25 May 2013

The Incidental Hotness

I have spent the last couple of weeks anticipating seeing this film and mixing the title up in my head with The Accidental Tourist, and often coming up with The Accidental Terrorist, which is a horrible testimonial to our North American mass media and how it has infiltrated my thoughts. I’m trying to recover with the title of this post, but that, too, is somewhat misleading. There was nothing incidental about the hotness. It was right there, out front, in almost every scene and answers to the name Riz Ahmed (Changez when answering on the set).

The story starts out like a classic American tale. Brilliant foreign student shines his way through an ivy league school into a corporate job in New York City. He is unfortunately good at his work, which is pretty much about downsizing the labour force of companies to squeeze out every ounce of value for the “investors” (read vultures). He’s off on a field trip with colleagues to eliminate an entire section of an auto plant in the Phillipines when the planes fly into the World Trade Centre in New York.

It doesn’t take long for the American dream to start turning into a nightmare. Returning to New York, pulled out of the arriving passengers and strip searched by customs. Another arrest on the street emerging from work after another man, either mentally ill or driven to ranting by his own treatment, says scary things to passersby and then runs into the subway, leaving our hero to be arrested by the zealous cops arriving on the scene.

Given his corporate role, I was unwilling to chalk up the slashing of his car tires outside the plant he was actively downsizing to anything other than appropriate class warfare, until the redneck in a pickup fired up his engine and took time to drive by, call him “Osama” and spit. There were also brief references to attacks on others across the US, especially Sikhs targeted by people who didn’t understand the difference between Islam and Sikkhism.

Our hero finds solace in the arms of the niece of his boss. A chance encounter at a skateboarder photo shoot, a second at a cocktail party at the boss’ house, and a long journey to overcome her own past loss. She’s an artist, and eventually working on an exhibit that will take away his last feeling of belonging in a strange land.

But wait! We’re not there yet! Against the backdrop of the xenophobic hostility in his adopted home, a crisis of conscience on the job. A Turkish publisher, important in the history of making the literature of the region available to the world, is assessed as valueless. The son of a poet (yes, our hero) can’t bring himself to do the deed and quits on the spot. His mentor is not gracious about it and he gets the “security guard escort out of the building with a box of your personal effects” treatment in New York. It’s that evening that he manages to push himself back out the door to attend the opening of his lover’s exhibit.

The installation is a regurgitation of their relationship. Images and phrases, taken out of their original context and put into a form that he sees as an objectification of his identity. Not good for a relationship. It doesn’t take long for him to be packing for a return to Pakistan — a foreigner with a work visa and no job doesn’t get to stay for long, a Pakistani one in the hysteria post 9-11 even less.

We see him as a professor in Lahore, sought out and pressured to talk by a writer turned CIA agent (Liev Schreiber) after the kidnapping of a fellow professor, also a CIA agent, as it turns out. The story is actually his recounting of his history in this meeting, with flashes back and forth to the interview and his American dream life. We get to see the misinterpretation of facts and events that cast our hero as a radical and a terrorist and his unwillingness to dignify those accusations with a rebuttal.

Let’s just say that the situation doesn’t end well for the kidnapped professor or for our hero’s brother. But this latter casualty gives our hero the chance to speak poetically at the gravesite. His speech and he are both rather beautiful in this scene.

Two other aspects of the film I would like to laud. The title sequence pictured above was really quite interesting (all those tiny squares of colour are actually head shots of individuals), and the traditional folk song at the beginning of the film was truly lovely. I think I’m going to have to track it down and listen to it again and again. Kangna, it was called, and I could only find a version removed from the images of the muscians performing it. UPDATE! I found a better version of the song with the musicians in studio:


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