I’m in Edmonton for the Edmonton International Film Festival, so lots (and I mean LOTS) of reviews coming up in the next two weeks (including films I saw in Winnipeg during the past week).
The festival started in a disappointing fashion with Beeba Boys, a film by Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, all of whose films I have enjoyed (until now). Mehta’s films include the Earth, Fire and Water series and Heaven on Earth, quiet dark PG-rated dramas about Indian women. They are well-made and have a lot to say. Beeba Boys could not be more different. It’s a Tarantinoesque mix of extreme graphic violence, graphic language, tragic drama and darkly comic moments that Mehta is unable to pull off. During the Q&A with Mehta after the film, every person (maybe ten) who asked questions enthusiastically praised the film, which was very polite of them but either very dishonest or revealing insufficient critical appraisal. Because no film critic out there is going to call Beeba Boys a great film.
Which is not to say that watching it was a waste of time. Beeba Boys was in many ways a fascinating film to watch. It has a distinctly offbeat Canadian flavour (and an offbeat Indian flavour) and is based on years of careful research into Indo-gang violence in Vancouver (the Q&A was the highlight of the evening, as Mehta talked about the background to the film and the life of immigrants in Canada, etc.).
Beeba Boys tells the story of a war between two Sikh gangs in Vancouver. The focus of the film is a gang leader named Jeet (Randeep Hooda), a coldblooded killer who dearly loves his mother and young son and frequently displays a pained expression as he contemplates the insanity of his life and his desire to end the violence. He’s a fairly complex character and the relationship between him and his parents and son is the strongest part of the film. But the film is mostly about the way Jeet’s primary enemy (whose wife is a friend of Jeet’s mother!) plants a mole named Nep (Ali Momen) into Jeet’s gang, with various horrific results. Along the way, Jeet hooks up with Katya, an attractive blonde from Poland (Sarah Allen), in a relationship which is purely superficial and lacks any chemistry. And then there’s the Vancouver police, led by the film’s silliest character (I cringed every time he opened his mouth), which are depicted as pretty useless and incompetent (especially in the film’s climax).
Nevertheless, I did find Beeba Boys oddly compelling. And there were some very entertaining scenes (Paul Gross has a small part, playing a wild character that reminded me of some great characters created by Tarantino). There was also a clear but devastating message about the need for children of immigrants to find a place in this country and gain some respect and notoriety while evidently having little regard for the value of human life (people are killed without a second thought). And this colourful film features some excellent cinematography and an interesting style. But with a couple of exceptions (including Jeet and his mother, who was played by Balinder Johal), the acting was not impressive, there was far too little character development and the mix of comedy and violent drama didn’t work for me. So it is only with great generosity that award Beeba Boys ***. No mug to be found.