Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Looking for a smart, anti-fundamentalist thriller? Try Shan Khan's juicy melodrama, HONOUR

This is the kind of movie I would refer to (if I used that sort of language) as hot shit. The new melodrama/ thriller about the terribly constricted lives of certain Pakistanis -- female variety, of course -- who dwell in London is not exactly a feminist film (the word is never even used here). Yet by its very nature and the story it tells so well, HONOUR, written and directed by Shan Khan, is hugely feminist. It's no stretch to suggest that, by its conclusion, it will have turned you to a raging, anti-fundamentalist feminist, too.

The film's clever construction gets an A-plus in my book. Beginning with a rancid, racist event on a moving train that shames us, even if we don't quite know why it is there or what it means to the movie as a whole, this first full-length film, written and directed by Mr. Khan (shown at right), turns out to know exactly what it is doing at each moment. If, at the climax, the filmmaker relies a bit too much to the standard and cliched, so good has he given us up to that point that you'll probably go along for the rest of the ride. (The denouement -- which answers an earlier question you'll have asked -- is quietly fraught and absolutely priceless.)

In between all this, because the filmmaker moves back and forth in time, we're not always sure where we are. Yet so cleverly has he managed his plot (and our fears) that we follow along, eventually understanding the entirety of this nasty family saga that -- due to the increasing number of honour killings against Muslim women -- seems all too true and twice as disgusting. (Honour may be one of the most anti-fundamentalist films you'll ever see.)

Our heroine, Mona, played with zest and finally -- considering all that is done to her by her disgusting family -- a finely controlled fury by the beautiful actress Aiysha Hart (two photos above and above, left), is a successful realtor in love with one of her co-workers, Tanvir (played by the handsome, full-lipped Nikesh Patel, above, right). Tanvir, however, has been promised since birth to another. When word gets out in the com-munity about the lovers' plans to run away together, while Tanvir's life is threatened, it is Mona, being a Muslim woman, who pays the dearest price.

When we first meet her stern mother (Harvey Virdi, above) and angry brother Kasim (Faraz Ayub, below, right), we don't much like them. Soon, however, they do something so rotten and shocking that we hold our breath in hopes that what we've seen somehow did not happen. Via his fast-paced use of back-and-forth, past-and-present, the filmmaker keeps us on tenterhooks so that we don't always know in what time frame things are taking place. This can be confusing, but so solidly has Khan hooked us that we stick with him until we learn the answers.

With the introduction of a bounty hunter, hired to find and bring back the missing Mona, the film turns into a kind of chase thriller. Our bounty hunter (played by the fine Paddy Considine, below) has guilt issues of his own with which to deal, and soon Mona has an ally of sorts.

How all this works itself out makes, on one level, for a fast-moving, crackerjack thriller. On another level, it simply adds ammunition to the arsenal of those of us who would like to see this kind of cretinous, fundamentalist thinking wiped off the face of the earth. Good luck. We've got about as much of a chance of turning around Muslim fundamentalist attitudes in Britain, as we have of bringing real and necessary gun control to these United States.

But at least we've got smart movies with a mission like this one to keep us entertained, even as our minds are made to consider what's happening in our culture and the world around us. In fact, this is probably the best feminist melodrama thriller since the amazing French film, Chaos, from 2001. (That's the younger and kinder of Mona's two brothers, played by Shubham Saraf, below.)

From 108 Media and running a tight, just-right 104 minutes (there's hardly a single moment you'd want to see cut), Honour opens this Friday in theaters and via VOD. Here in New York City, it plays the Cinema Village, and it will also hit one of the Laemmle theaters in the L.A. area soon (date and theater are yet to be determined). Don't let this one get lost in the usual, Oh-but-there-are-just-too-many-movies-to-see! shuffle.... If you're so inclined, try it via Vimeo-on-Demand.

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