"There just isn’t much to praise here aside from the effective use of its locations and Macfadyen’s sympathetic central performance"

The story of a director being tempted to make a film with co-operation from a despotic regime has always been a fascinating story. Like Francis Ford Coppola being loaned military equipment by the tyrannical President Marcos of the Philippines to make Apocalypse Now, military equipment that would be used to crush an uprising once their use in filming had ended. Lost in Karastan is a black comedy that deals with such a story, featuring a desperate director, eager for the chance to make a film at all costs, even if it means taking money from a tyrant. Unfortunately for the viewer however, it fails to be funny or memorable in its attempt to tell such an intriguing story.

The plot follows washed-up British director Emil Forester, a previously acclaimed filmmaker with numerous awards under his belt, however now without a career and without a hope of making another film. It is at this low point that Emil receives a call from the Autonomous Republic of Karastan, an unheard of nation in Eastern Europe run by an eccentric and ruthless dictator, presenting Emil the chance at directing a historical epic about the nation’s national hero with the country as his set and the oppressed citizens as his cast.

The film is supposed to be a satirical black comedy showing the perils of mixing desperate directors and despotic dictators; however the film just isn’t very funny. In fact it’s exceedingly boring. The plot moves along at a glacial pace. The plot, while an interesting concept ripe with comedic potential, is not exploited to its fullest potential. Instead we have tired jokes about ‘not disagreeing with the President, because he has those who disagree with him shot’, and the clichéd character of the washed-up Hollywood actor appearing in a lousy foreign film because of a big paycheque. I wasn’t watching the film hoping my sides didn’t split; I was watching the clock hoping the end credits would appear. The poor comedy is also undermined by the sudden, often shifts to drama, with terrified locals fearful of being killed by the regime and a recurring subplot dealing with an increasingly violent uprising against the dictatorship, these scenes give the impression that the film would have perhaps been better if it had been a drama from the get go.

However, the film is not without its few positives. Matthew Macfadyen of Ripper Street fame, in the lead role of Emil, gives a fine performance and makes what he can of the lousy material that he is burdened with. He conveys all the sadness and desperation of a once talented genius now reduced to accepting an offer from a monster, just so he can have that one last chance at glory. Macfadyen presents the character with the right amount of humanity: Emil isn’t an idiot oblivious to the suffering of the native people, he’s just so desperate to follow his passion of filmmaking that he is willing to be blissfully ignorant until it all becomes too much for him to bear any further.

Also of positive note are the films locations, filmed in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, which oddly enough is the birthplace of infamous Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Coincidence? Perhaps not. From the beautiful rebel-filled mountains to the downtrodden cities with their dilapidated communist era buildings and tanks on every street corner, it certainly looks like a country suffering under an oppressive and cruel regime. However in a perhaps unintentional move from the filmmakers, I found myself more concerned at the condition that the Georgian capital Tbilisi appeared to be in. The city looks exhausted and in dire need of investment to help life its spirits. That fact alone should be a sign of how uninterested I was in the film’s story, I was more worried about the country it was being filmed in, rather than the outcome of the plot.

In closing, Lost in Karastan is not a terrible film; but it is a boring and forgettable one. There just isn’t much to praise here aside from the effective use of its locations and Macfadyen’s sympathetic central performance. It isn’t funny enough to justify its label as a comedy, and the plot is filled with tired clichéd jokes that have been done in other films and to a much better standard. If you want a funny and thought-provoking satire about dictatorships, watch The Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin instead. Don’t bother getting Lost in Karastan, just stay away all together.