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BANGLA gets 5/10 Chaste romance


Directed by Phaim Bhuiyan

Starring Phaim Bhuiyan, Carlotta Antonelli

5/10

This year’s Italian Film Festival kicks off with Bangla, which looks at modern day romance in multicultural Italy, with something new to say about cross-cultural differences, but not much new about romance. In the comical and enlightening opening, leading man Phaim (Phaim Bhuiyan, also co-writer and director) introduces us to the various ethnic groups packed together in his tight neighbourhood, observing the new Italy. Phaim displays wit and playfulness in his narration, but he comes across blander and just more awkward through his dialogue in the rest of the film.

Which makes his rushed romance with Asia (Carlotta Antonelli) all the more confusing, making it hard to tell what she sees in him: he isn’t charismatic, intriguing, or even much of a good dresser, but worst of all, he pulls away from her when she gets close – she doesn’t know, but this is because of Phaim’s need to keep pure for his Muslim religion. At least he eventually opens up to her and clarifies his religious stance on the sexual side of their relationship, which is interesting to explore – this man’s intense libido battling it out with his religious purity.

It’s this strain on the romance that is more intriguing than the romance itself. Phaim seeks advice on what to do in his situation from many of his fellow Muslim family, friends, and mentors, though he seems to act out on the terrible advice they have, like simply not see Asia anymore – this just makes him appear even less appealing to her, yet she remains with him for unknowable reasons.

It’s funny to see that Bangla’s first shot turns out to be a pornographic fantasy of Phaim’s, which is amusing, but much else of the film also feels like a male fantasy that never registers as truthful. As the romance takes centre stage throughout, it becomes more and more of a clichéd rom-com, unearthing tropes that have been tired since before the ‘80s, but this film seems to still regard them as exceptionally new.

A rom-com with an unconvincing romance and only a handful of amusing comedy elements is going to be a hard sell. The Muslim angle adds some newness to this genre, particularly at how a sexually charged country like Italy is and how it contrasts to Phaim’s religious devotion, but even that ultimately gets bogged down as the film amplifies its weaknesses rather than strengths.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

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