Hello and Happy New Year, beautiful readers! As my first review of 2020, I give you my unapologetic take on Hector Babenco’s last film My Hindu Friend.
In the first five seconds of the film, the director notes this is based on his life. Babenco passed away shortly after the making of this film, making it his final work. I truly do believe this was his way of reconciling with his past and being honest about his illness, but I have to admit, some of it just isn’t sitting right with me.
He’s trying to be blunt and self aware on purpose, making you think our lead Diego (Willem Dafoe) will be redeemed later on. He shows us what it felt like to deal with the fears and frustration involved with his sickness. Some of it feels like a fever dream because it most likely was. However, that doesn’t excuse Diego’s ego driven, problematic behavior. Somewhere at the start, just after learning he has cancer, Diego fights with his partner and follows a random woman home. He nonchalantly breaks into her room, which she sees no issue and rewards him with a blowjob when he tells her he is sick. During his wedding reception dinner, he brags about cheating on his now-wife Maria, and everyone laughs. She then confesses the same, but it’s okay because he’s going to die soon. Later at that same party, he convinces a woman to show him her breasts and verbally assaults other guests for criticizing his films as a flex. While those are just a few out of several examples of his behavior, in the end there is no lesson learned, even though the film wants you to think there is. You’d think that by showing us an extremely flawed protagonist in the first few minutes of the film that he is going to have a redemption arc and character development by the end. But alas, that would be just as much a fantasy in this movie as a gerriatric stripper in your hospital room. Technicality-wise, the film is sporadic and lacks a coherent message. It treads with heavy Tommy Wiseau-like energy, making the flow choppy.
Diego, a middle-aged, successful filmmaker finds out he has cancer with not much time left to live. He and his wife Maria immediately venture to America for his treatment. There, he experiences a series of delusional episodes trying to grapple with his illness and his relationships with the people around him. I’d like to note that just because I don’t agree with the nature of the character, doesn’t mean I’m ignoring a well written story. It is indeed actually a mess.
The official logline for the film is incredibly misleading. I went into it thinking it was about an older man who befriends a young boy during their chemotherapy treatments. This is hardly the case. The Hindu boy shows up a couple times for a few very short scenes halfway through the two hour runtime. Like everything else in the story, it’s just something that happens in the background of Diego’s life. I truly expected it to be about a narcissistic man learning it’s never too late to change through a child’s eyes. Instead, he learns nothing. In fact, it’s another exercise in vanity for Diego. All we see is him telling self-absorbed stories that the child doesn’t criticize because he’s, well, a child. It’s a one sided friendship that I can only assume Babenco uses to try to make you believe Diego is a good person despite everything else about him.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
I’m sure I would have believed these characters more if they weren’t so surface level and directed with very little motivation. The acting is truly good, but the dialogue is so shallow, cringey, and sometimes out of nowhere. It’s strange for me to say that Willem Dafoe was just fine. I didn’t care for the character of Diego and found him unbearable, but only because Dafoe is directed as such. He does the job. I read in the trivia section of the film’s IMDB page that the cast was majority crew members or Babenco’s family members, which I think is pretty neat. As his final film, I’m sure it’s very special to everyone involved.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The score only showed itself about six times and for not even a full minute. The basic piano underscoring does nothing to move the story along, it just pops up when it feels like it needs to evoke emotion. It’s so weird when you hear it, that you almost wish it wasn’t there at all.
The production design looks like they didn’t put a lot of effort into it, making everything feel hollow. The hospital rooms aren’t exactly dressed for a cancer patient’s room, but they are pretty much the only well lit scenes besides the outdoor ones. The lighting in general is awful and not consistent at all. At the wedding reception for example, there is a very bright LED light angled below everyone’s faces making it look as if they all have their own Scary Story To Tell In The Dark™.
My thoughts aside, I think there are many people who find these types of indie films interesting, and that is perfectly okay. It wasn’t a film for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be for others. I’m sure this will mean a great deal and be celebrated by fans of his work. Originally released in Brazil a few years back, it is finally seeing the light of international day. If you’re interested in seeing this film, there is a limited release starting January 17th in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Phoenix.