Lost in Karastan (2 stars)

Lost in Karastan

Matthew Macfadyen and Noah Taylor fail to flesh out this underdeveloped satire

‘It’s a strange film,’ explains award-winning director Emil Forester (Matthew Macfadyen), as he introduces one of his movies at the Palchik International Film Festival. ‘So just best put all your expectations to one side and open yourself up to it.’

It’s not the only self-referential line in Lost in Karastan (the ending gets signposted in a speech just 15-minutes in). This new film from writer-director Ben Hopkins (The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz) and co-writer Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love, the Oscar-winning Ida) certainly is strange – but not half as much as it thinks it is. And though it has the potential for sharp satire, it’s ultimately toothless.

Palchik is the capital of Karastan – an ex-Soviet republic led by President Abashiliev (Richard van Weyden), a corrupt but affable leader who is obsessed with his own image and ignores the poverty and brewing civil war on his doorstep. When the once-successful British filmmaker Emil comes to town for the aforementioned festival, Abashiliev persuades him to direct a national epic about the country’s medieval founder, to boost his own image.

The film glances on some interesting themes – personality cults, rural poverty, civil unrest – but doesn’t pounce on them, leaving it looking a bit, well, lost. As Abashiliev, van Weyden is strangely benign, and while Macfadyen colours his solid performance as the charming but slightly hapless Brit abroad with shades of megalomania, this darker side never really gets explored.

Noah Taylor doesn’t get to adequately show off his comic talent as Xan Butler, a cardboard cut-out of a perennially drunk Hollywood actor, who’s there for the money; and MyAnna Buring has a raw deal as the similarly one-dimensional Chulpan, Emil’s mysterious love interest. Ultimately, Hopkins’ directorial touch is a little too light, the script a little too flat, and Lost in Karastan cries out for more focused characterisations and a more pronounced sense of black comedy.

Selected release from Fri 22 Jan.

Lost in Karastan

  • 2 stars
  • 2014
  • UK / Georgia / France
  • 1h 36min
  • Directed by: Ben Hopkins
  • Cast: Matthew Macfadyen, MyAnna Buring, Noah Taylor
  • UK release: 22 January 2016

Emil (Macfadyen) is a once-successful film director who comes to the former Soviet republic of Karastan and is persuaded to direct a movie based on the national epic. Macfadyen gives a solid performance as the charming but rather hapless Brit, but it's just not sharp or funny enough.