LIFF 2019 Special Review: Saturday Afternoon

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What are your plans for a Saturday afternoon? A trip to the market? To a movie? To a sporting event? Perhaps, like the people in the film Saturday Afternoon, you’re spending the time in a café, and filmmaker Mostofa Sarwar Farooki returns to the London Indian Film Festive with a film that takes inspiration from the deadly July 2016 terrorist attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, a film that is harrowing and compelling in equal measure. Gone is the black humour the director used effectively in his previous films Television and Ant; instead, Farooki creates a pressure cooker situation in which to examine contemporary Bangladeshi society. The café becomes a kind of microcosm, with people of different nationalities and religions caught in the web of this attempt by a group of fundamentalist Muslims to gain attention (or even just new recruits, as the plans change when the attackers must shift gears as the situation changes) for their cause.

In the initial stages, the hostages are separated into two groups: foreigners and Bangladeshis. The foreigners – seen as representative of the various foreign, mostly Western governments and influences the attackers see as harmful to Muslims and Muslim thought – are immediately executed. The others – believed to be all Bengalis – are tested to determine who is Muslim and who might not be. And it becomes apparent that there are, for these attackers, Muslims and Muslims: that is, there are Muslims whose beliefs and outward expressions of their faith stand in line with those of the attackers, and then there are Muslims who, for these men with their strict definitions of Islam, do more harm to the Muslim cause than any other religious or political group could.

In his last LIFF entry, Doob, I felt that Farooki took a step forward as a director in the technical crafting of his film, and Saturday Afternoon advances that yet again. The film is mostly (with the exception of a few establishing shots) shot in one take, the camera moving around the café’s spaces, a technique that adds to the film’s emotional impact, conveying a kind of claustrophobic tension that builds as the hostage-taking progresses. What truly makes Farooki’s film, though, is his exceptional ensemble cast – in particular Bengali actor Parambrata Chatterjee as the group’s leader, Palestinian actor Eyad Hourani, and Bangladeshi actor Nusrat Imrose Tisha give us performances that anchor the film’s themes and underline the film’s emotional weight.

Saturday Afternoon is the first of a trilogy that Mostafa Sarwar Farooki has planned on the theme of “Identity”; his most accomplished film to date, Saturday Afternoon is a decidedly uncomfortable film, but one which beautifully sets the stage for whatever Farooki will explore next.

Saturday Afternoon screens in London June 25th and on the 27th. The Bagri Foundation London Film Festival celebrates a decade of bringing the best new South Asian films to the UK, with 5 cities, 25 venues and 25 specially curated films. It starts on 20th June 2019 in London continues until 8th July 2019, at cinemas across the UK. For more on the festival, please visit: http://londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

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