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East is East

  east is east
Linda Bassett (left) and Om Puri pick popcorn kernels from their teeth.

2000, Miramax Films
All Rights Reserved

It's the contrasts in life that make the damn thing so worthwhile.

"East is East" (Imdb listing) presents a cornucopia of them, and does so with such a vivid good spirit and raw emotional force that it's a hard film to get out of one's head. When the cultural values of Muslim Pakistan meet the relatively liberal world of England, the sparks that result make for some of the most entertaining cinema of the year.

Om Puri stars as George Khan, a Pakistani immigrant and chip-shop owner who has made good on one version of the Pakistani dream -- he has come to England, started his own business, married an English woman and had a strong and healthy family of five sons and a daughter. But it's the kids that cause George the series of problems that give "East is East" its emotional power and comic intensity, beginning when Khan's eldest son Nazir flees his arranged marriage, an act that brings a largely self-imposed cloud of shame upon his father.

This cloud soon expands into the repressive atmosphere that drives the rest of Khan's family -- including his English wife, who is ably played by Linda Bassett -- to increasingly desperate attempts to escape from his domineering and sometimes cruel attempts to turn the family into his vision of a real Pakistani household.

While the film takes on some extremely serious issues, including domestic violence and culture shock, it does so with an amazingly deft touch. "East is East" has an absolutely fearless sense of humor, and is similarly bold when it presents scenes that are searingly emotional.

"East is East" shines as a comedy, and a vivid, nuanced and spirited portrait of a racially-mixed marriage in a community that isn't always welcoming to dark-skinned immigrants. The dynamic between George Khan and his wife Ella is absorbing and convincing, with a playful banter that sometimes crosses over into conversations -- and cultural arguments -- of a deadly serious nature.

And while the film does feature a few dead-end subplots (like a deceptively promising one about a racist right-wing politician's ascent toward power), it feels satisfyingly complete.

"East is East" suceeds by managing to keep a sense of humor - and perspective - about issues that cause most films to lapse into maudlin hysterics or self-important bouts of lead-witted pomposity. This British film is great stuff, and a wonderful contrast... to Hollywood.

Filmfodder Grade: A

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