Lavazza Italian Film Festival: BANGLA Review
The 2019 Italian Film Festival kicks off later this month with a huge offering of films across a variety of genres. One film showing is Bangla, a romantic comedy that explores the difficulties when young love and religious rules conflict. The film is the debut feature film from director Phaim Bhuiyan, who plays the lead character of the same name. His involvement in the direction of the story has allowed Bhuiyan to create a beautifully honest portrayal of the struggles of young love, culture, religion.
Bangla follows the story of 22-year-old Phaim who was born in Italy but is of Bangladeshi heritage and a devout Muslim. Phaim narrates the story, showing us around his multicultural neighbourhood of Torpignattara in Rome, introducing us to his friends, acquaintances and family, and explaining the dynamics of his culture and religion. Phaim is an extremely likeable and relatable character, easy to recognise as any of the slightly dorky, misfit and awkward teenagers or young adults in the world that are just beginning to wonder about things like love.
Phaim plays in a band that mostly perform cultural music at weddings or other family celebrations. The crux of the story begins when the band is waiting to play a proper gig and Phaim sets eyes on black-and-blue-haired Asia (Carlotta Antonelli). He almost instantly falls in love and despite wandering up to the Italian girl in a daze and standing awkwardly beside her without saying anything, they hit it off and develop a relationship as the film progresses.
The key issue addressed by the film is Phaim’s struggles with the Islamic rule of no sex before marriage. With Asia’s carefree nature, the pair approach the topic from totally different perspectives and their encounters are naturally comedic, but present all points of view respectfully and accommodatingly.
The film is bright and vibrant, exploring serious issues in a light-hearted, feel-good way. The characters are created with wonderfully genuine acting. Every character has an impact on the story, even those that only appear in a scene or two. A highlight is Asia’s somewhat dysfunctional family lunch, where the dynamic between her father, her mother and her mother’s new girlfriend is fiery and very enjoyable to watch.
The writing in the film is fast paced and witty, filled with topical jokes that have the whole audience laughing. Jokes about the North Korean regime, modern technology and apps are thrown in around continual observational humour. The awkward nature of Phaim, including his mannerisms, thoughts and decisions makes for a hilarious film in itself. Whether it be introducing the audience to his drug dealer ‘friend’ who allegedly gives great advice yet speaks only once in the film, or scenes that play out Phaim kissing Asia in front of his family before flashing back to current time where none of that is happening, each scene builds the comedy of the plot as well as the depth and relatability of Phaim’s character. The humour is weaved into the dialogue in the way of someone who is unintentionally yet always funny and ultimately the writing feels totally natural and seamless.
Bangla is an Italian language film and the subtitles move quickly to keep up with the character’s speech, but the pace is engaging rather than distracting. There is no time for your mind to wander far beyond what the characters are doing. In other senses, the film is not too obviously Italian in the stereotypical way and it is nice to see a film about the multicultural side of the country, rather than just focusing on pure Italian families, pizza and pasta.
Bangla doesn’t push the boundaries of a typical rom-com/coming-of-age film, but is enjoyable for that very reason. It has all the typical stages - an instant connection, a break-up, a scene of one person running to tell the other that they love them. The predictability of the story, however, cleverly allows for the element of religion to take centre stage and be the main idea that challenges viewers’ expectations.
This is a fantastic debut film by Bhuiyan and hopefully the first of many great films to feature in this year’s Italian Film Festival.