Sunday, 3 June 2012

Four Lions

I caught up with this on disc last night. It is a film that for me provokes two clashing reactions which are never entirely able to reconcile themselves. It is a brave and inventive piece of cinema which is well conceived and well executed. I am left with questions about the wisdom of the subject matter.

First and foremost it is a comedy. Set in the Pakistani community of South Yorkshire, the story follows a group of British-born men who live by and use the vocabulary of radicalised jihadis. Apart from their rhetoric, they do not appear to engage with Islam or moslem culture in any serious way. They see their fight as one against oppression in general - it is unfocussed and lacks any specific target.

On a comedic level this film satirises the would-be terrorists more than it satirises their cause. On a social-commentary level it highlights the alienation felt by so many in Britain's immigrant communities. This is done in what feels like a very even-handed way, similar in lots of ways to aspects of the film Yasmin which I reviewed here. The dialogue in the film is razor-sharp and is at times very funny. It works as satire and makes part of British-Pakistani culture accessible to general viewers. (Viewers from outside Britain may struggle with some of the references.)

One of the most alarming aspects for me of the way the story is told, is the openness with which the central character Omar discusses his intentions with his wife and presents them in parable form to his son. The family offer a picture of a home filled with love, harmony and happiness and there is never any consideration of the consequences for his family if Omar 'succeeds'. They are living the dream that so many in their community (and others) seemingly aspire to. Perhaps this is an intended part of the parody of satire and my reading of it is simply too unsophisticated. If that's the case, forgive me.

I am left wondering how appropriate the subject of suicide bombing is for a comedy, in a world that experiences the painful consequences of such activities on a daily basis and in a country which is still raw from its own recent tragic experience. Tragic for the families of perpetrators and victims alike and for the links between our respective communities. As with any extremist, they are by definition never representative of the main-stream and we must remind ourselves of that continually.

Riz Ahmed stars as Omar and leads the disparate group turning in s strong performance. I'm sure we will see more of him. Kayvan Novak also turns in a very good performance as the confused Waj. As the film moves towards its climax the thought of suicide bombers detonating themselves in the midst of the London Marathon produces images that are too awful to dwell on.

For me the actual ending turned the whole film into something other than a comedy - perhaps that was the intention and perhaps that's why I feel deeply uncomfortable about the film as whole. Maybe something has pricked my conscience and if I work with it, a clearer understanding will come. Or maybe it simply remains unsuitable subject-matter for a comedy.

I'll give it 6/10.

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