I’m always willing to give a movie with an interesting premise a shot – especially if that film has a solid trailer. This was the case with My Hindu Friend, a film that sounded like I might enjoy it. While I don’t often watch films that fall into a strictly realistic genre, I can enjoy a good one. But the trailer for My Hindu Friend made it look like something more unique than any of the other films that have tackled this kind of subject. And, to be totally fair to the movie, it probably is unique from most other films of its ilk – but I wouldn’t say that’s really a compliment in this case. Let’s be clear – there are moments of brilliance in My Hindu Friend, but it takes the better part of an hour to find any of them and much of the rest of the film just feels like a jumbled mess of scenes, ideas, and characters that never fully coalesces into a coherent story. But, hey, at least those few moments of brilliance are fun to watch.
My Hindu Friend (written by Hector Babenco and Guilherme Moraes Quintella, directed by Hector Babenco)
Diego (Willem Dafoe) is a film director very close to death, surrounded by people who are having trouble dealing with his current tempestuous mood. Chances are he won’t survive, but if he does, that means he needs to relearn how to live.
I’m gonna start off with the stuff I liked because, honestly, there’s not much of it. Positive thing 1: Willem Dafoe as Diego. Dafoe carries the bulk of the film on his back and he does a stellar job here. He has a hard job as I don’t think his character is particularly likable, but he does manage to seemingly effortlessly get the audience to care about him and that’s an absolute testament to his acting ability. Babenco’s script gives Dafoe a lot to work with as he gets to play a character at both his strongest moments and his weakest, allowing Dafoe to show off some really nice acting chops. It’s also a lot of fun watching Dafoe interact with the other characters; he and Maria Fernanda Cândido, who plays his wife, have some lovely chemistry and the two of them sell that relationship in ways the script does not, and Dafoe has similarly strong interactions with the rest of the cast. On the whole, Dafoe is probably the thing that will draw most people to this film and fans of his will certainly not be disappointed in his performance here. It’s an absolute testament to why Dafoe continues to be an actor of good renown.
Positive thing 2: the previously mentioned moments of brilliance. Much of the movie is filmed very well; I have no complaints about the cinematography or anything, but it rarely does anything makes itself visually stand out from the array of other movies tackling very similar subject matter – except in the moments where Diego is either writing part of his story or telling a story to the young Hindu boy (Rio Adlakha) referenced by the title. In those moments, we get that hint of whimsy promised by the trailer as Babenco brings his audience into Diego’s imagination. We can see him and the unnamed Hindu boy fighting soldiers and we can see Diego flying a plane. Unfortunately, those moments are so brief and it takes so long to get to them that the rest of the movie feels like a bit of a chore. The scenes between Dafoe and Adlakha are some of the more charming moments of the film and it’s where I felt the movie most came to life. It’s just a real shame these moments happened so little because they were the moments that made me like this film the most.
Speaking of the titular Hindu Friend, he’s barely in this movie and has nearly no identifiable impact on Diego at all. In fact, I really don’t understand why the film is called My Hindu Friend; Diego and the boy in question share a total of three minutes of screen time together; the boy doesn’t even appear until over an hour into the movie, and then completely disappears ten minutes after his first appearance, only getting mentioned again in the last ten minutes. The trailer (and the initial premise) made it sound like the heart of the film would be Diego and this boy having conversations and growing together. That was the movie I signed up for and it certainly wasn’t the movie I got.
What I got, instead, was a collection of scenes that could generously be described as a narrative, I guess. But honestly, I really couldn’t tell you what, exactly, happened in this movie or why it happened. Many of the scenes were so short that it was often hard to figure out where we were or what was happening, and the moment you started to feel any clarity, the film would shift onto the next scene so you could start the process all over again. The film has no real cohesion; time just passes and you never really understand how much time has passed until one character references that it’s been five years since Diego’s diagnosis, and you are literally dumbstruck because you had no idea the film had covered that much time. I assume the core of the film was supposed to be Diego learning to live again, but that theme was so poorly tracked and muddled by side characters and scenes that didn’t seem to contribute to the story and themes being explored that I’m not sure Diego’s emotional arc actually landed the way the Babenco intended it to.
Additionally, I found myself unable to connect to any of the characters, mostly because everyone who wasn’t Diego barely had enough screentime to make an impact – and many of them were unpleasant people even in their short appearances on screen. I find it hard to care about people who are so unlikable. Even Dafoe’s Diego isn’t particularly likable, often coming across as more of an asshole than someone you actually want to root for. Perhaps it is realistic, but it’s not the kind of thing I enjoy spending two hours of my life watching. None of this is the fault of the actors, many of whom do a respectable job in the film. As previously mentioned, Dafoe is excellent here, as is Maria Fernanda Cândido, who plays Diego’s wife. She’s able to go toe-to-toe with Dafoe in a number of scenes and there is an electricity in those scenes that is missing from the rest of the film. The other actors, too, do a solid job, though they often aren’t on screen long enough to much of an impression besides being unlikable. And, to be fair, it seems they were intended to come off the way they did, so I guess that’s a positive thing since I definitely didn’t like them. But because of that, it made watching the film really difficult at times.
I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t like My Hindu Friend. It’s well made on a technical level, but its script really didn’t do anything for me. I couldn’t connect with the characters, I frequently didn’t understand what was going on (even as I paid close attention to the film), and it was just mostly unpleasant to watch. Much of that is based on my own expectations after watching the trailer, but if the film is gonna be so different in tone than what’s in the trailer, perhaps the trailer is doing the film a massive disservice. I honestly wouldn’t have looked into this film had the trailer actually been reflective of what the movie was. So, on the one hand, it certainly did its job in attracting an audience; but on the other, I don’t think it’s doing the film any favors by promising a film that the audience is never actually going to see. I don’t want to be too mean to My Hindu Friend. I suspect this is the kind of movie that will immensely please a certain kind of filmgoer who looks forward to seeing movies with such ambiguous plots and collections of odd elements. But it very much wasn’t for me.
2.5 out of 5 wands.
My Hindu Friend has a limited theatrical engagement beginning January 17th in NY, LA, Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, Minneapolis, ATL, Phoenix, Houston, and Chicago. It can also be purchased from all major digital platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, etc) on January 17th. Thanks to Rock Salt Releasing and TriCoast Worldwide for providing me access to a screener of the film.