A gentle dark comedy, Lost in Karastan is directed and co-scripted (the co-writer being Ida’s Pawel Pawlikowski) by British filmmaker Bob Hopkins. In this co-production between UK, Georgia, Germany and Russia, a washed up film director is invited to attend a film festival in the newly founded country of Karastan. Needless to say, his journey will take on a rather surreal turn.
Emil Forester (Matthew Macfadyen) was a once (mildly) famous director, having won an Academy Award for a short film early on in his career. Emil is now struggling to come up with an idea for his next film. One day, he receives a call from the Embassy of the Autonomous Republic of Karastan – the local film festival is hosting a retrospective on his work and would be honoured if Emil could attend. Little does he know that this journey would involve him falling in love with charming and dangerous Chulpan (MyAnna Burning) and, eventually, being commissioned by the British-educated dictator President Abashiliev (Richard van Weyden) to direct an epic film about Karastan hero, Tanat, with drunken star Xan Butler (Noah Taylor) starring in the title role…
Lost in Karastan delves into many bizarre situations which uncover a darker layer to the story – Emil quickly finds himself surrounded by people he cannot trust, in a political context he doesn’t understand. President Abashiliev puts the entire country at the service of Emil’s crew but, despite the initial euphoria, we soon uncover the corrupt machinery behind Abashiliev’s cinematic ambitions. The film makes fun of politics, art and filmmaking in general. While the performances by Macfadyen, Burning and Taylor are terrific, sadly the film is rather uneven, with a long, uneventful introduction, and despite the promise of a dark comedy, it never goes very dark, nor very funny. The camera work is for the most part unobtrusive and documentary-like (we also see some behind the scenes footage of Emil’s film in the making). This eventually results in the direction feeling slightly off-beat when compared to the acting and the comedy tension.
Overall, despite the compelling premise and the brilliant cast/talent attached, the direction fails to keep up with the pace, often being too low-key for the sake of it. Lost in Karastan results in an only-slightly funny comedy, and mostly forgettable film.
Lost in Karastan is released in UK cinemas on 22 January.