Saturday, June 23, 2007

My Son, the Fanatic -- thoughts on a movie

Last night I watched My Son, the Fanatic, a short (hour and 20 minute) film based on a short story. In a north of England mill town, an Indian immigrant (Om Puri) is a taxi driver with a dissatisfied wife and one son in college. He is nominally Muslim, but assimilated to the point that he relaxes after work with a drink and Louis Armstrong records. Many of his taxi clients are local prostitutes. From the opening scene where Parvez and his wife are meeting their son's English fiancée and her parents, through the inexplicable (to him) changes in his son's behavior and beliefs, we see the disintegration of this small family. Parvez is hired as a driver for a visiting German businessman and becomes his procurer of women, especially "Bettina" (whose real name is Sandra), played by Rachel Griffiths. In their taxi rides together, Parvez and Bettina become friends. Meanwhile, his son Farid has discovered his Islamic roots and, disgusted by the prostitution, pornography and general meaninglessness of the English life as he sees it, slides further and further into fanaticism. (In this 1997 film, the fanaticism takes the form of protests against prostitution which turn violent). Father and son cannot understand each other. I won't recount the rest of the plot, but I wanted to note some of my thoughts on the film.

The theme that struck me in this film was the status of women in modern British culture and in Islamic culture. Except for brief scenes with the English fiancée and her mother, the only English (non-Islamic) women we see are the prostitutes. Minoo, Parvez's wife and Farid's mother, longs to return to Lahore and readily adopts a more Islamic style of clothing when her son becomes observant. Yet she is not a subservient wife. Farid (and the other fundamentalists) take out their anger at the sex-obsessed culture they see around them on the prostitutes, failing to see that the women are the victims. (Bettina/Sandra explains her choice of profession in economic terms.)

Parvez seems to be the only man in the film who views women as human beings. Although his relationship with his wife is crumbling, he is shocked and angry when, during a visit from a Muslim spiritual leader, she is made to eat separately, behind closed doors in the kitchen. And although he is sexually attracted to Bettina, there is far more to their relationship than that, and even his interactions with the other prostitutes are friendly and do not objectify them. Yet, he is still complicit in their being used by the German businessman.

This movie was billed as somewhat humorous, which it really isn't at all, though it's not a complete tragedy either. If you have seen it or do in the future I'd be interested in your ideas.

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