Venice film festival opens with The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Aug 30, 2012

9/11 film 'shocks the festival' with its bold tale of a man torn between capitalism and fundamentalism


A FILM about 9/11 has proved a shocking, divisive opener to the Venice Film Festival. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, directed by Mira Nair, was always going to be a controversial choice to kick off the festival, because rather than treat Islamic radicals simply as the enemy, the film tries to understand the forces that shape terrorism.

The movie, adapted from the 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamid, tells the story of a young Pakistani man, played by UK actor Riz Ahmed, who becomes a high flier on Wall Street before being radicalised after 9/11. It also stars Kate Hudson and Liev Schreiber, who attended the star-studded premiere in Venice last night.

The Times describes the choice of The Reluctant Fundamentalist to kick off the festival last night as "a big bold punch". Kate Muir says Ahmed is "wonderfully convincing" in the lead role, shape-shifting from Wall Street matinee idol to Mujahideen confidant.  

If the festival needed "an electric charge to shock it into motion", it came at the premiere of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, says Xan Brooks in The Guardian. Half way through the film, Ahmed's Wall Street hotshot watches the planes hit the World Trade Centre. He flashes an exultant smile, admitting that, instead of sorrow or anger, "all I felt was awe".  

Yet while the material might be contentious, director Nair, speaking on the red carpet, said she wanted the film to bring "some sense of bridge-making, some sense of healing, basically a sense of communication that goes beyond the stereotype".

Time magazine praised the film as "tense, thoughtful and truly international" and said the story "raises questions meant to test America's conscience".

But critics were not universally positive. Some commented that the film lacked the subtlety of Hamid's novel, while Variety says the movie "saddles itself with a laborious narrative structure and half-baked thriller elements".

Geoffrey McNab notes in The Independent that this isn't the sort of film a Hollywood studio would back, or one that is likely to endear itself to US viewers, given that it portrays Americans in the wake of 9/11 as "violent, racist, intolerant of outsiders and quick to assign blame". But he admits it's a well-crafted thriller that "looks at familiar subject matter from a new angle".

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