Lavazza Italian Film Festival: Charming and poignant "Bangla" is a gem of a debut by Phaim Bhuiyan
In Bangla’s hilarious opening sequence, we are introduced to two distinctly different worlds: the life we wish we could lead, and the life we end up living.
Sometimes, it feels like the life we wish we could lead is impossible, and that the life we will end up living is both inevitable and inescapable. Do we feel this way because of our fears of hurting the people we love? Or is it a result of the potential crossroads between our dreams and desires, and the things we have been taught were wrong growing up. Whatever the reason may be, inner conflict will always be a human condition, and one of the greatest strengths of Bangla is how it explores this inner conflict in a way that is simultaneously universal and unique to the film’s protagonist’s cultural background.
Within the first 10 minutes of the film, we are given the grand tour of the life of our young protagonist and narrator Phaim (played by the director himself). Phaim lives at home with his stable Islamic family of four who, while happy with the simple lives they lead, dream of something more: his mother wants to move to London for a nice sea change, and his sister is struggling with the uncertainty of a looming marriage. Most of all, Phaim himself feels confused with expressing his blooming sexual desires, while abiding by a sacred rule of his faith: no sex before marriage. Things become more confusing when he meets the confident and impulsive Asia (played wonderfully by Carlotta Antonelli) and he is pulled between this blossoming romance and his faith.
The film’s setting, Torpigna, the neighborhood Phaim grew up in, is a melting pot of Indian and Italian communities; a cultural venn diagram that is partly charming and interesting but simultaneously overwhelming and strange, due to Torpigna’s rapidly evolving population. That these characters live in such an eclectic province provides an evocative thematic background to how we interpret and reevaluate our family traditions and religious heritage in the modern age.
The magic of Bangla comes from the elegant balance between the elements of comedy and drama in the portrayal of Phaim’s conflict, and how this tightrope keeps us deeply immersed in the film. When Phaim and Asia first start seeing each other, it has all the endearing elements you see in an independent rom-com, yet there is an underlying tension of Phaim’s guilt of betraying his religious obligations underneath the ecstasy of their love. While our introduction to Torpigna is heavily stylized with narration, quick edits, and fourth-wall breaking, there are numerous moments of realism that are vulnerable and revealing, all shot and performed with care, nuance, and control.
Bangla is hilarious, and enlightening, and an impressive directorial debut by Phaim Bhuyian. The most surprising thing I found walking away from this film was how someone’s life, in a world foreign and unknown to mine, didn’t feel too far from home.
4 out of 5 stars