Starring Willem Dafoe, Maria Fernanda Candido
Directed by Hector Babenco
Rating: **(2 stars)
Brazil’s most celebrated filmmaker Hector Babenco passed away in 2016. This film chronicling his last years as he battled cancer and the ensuing self-questionings, originally released in 2015, has now been re-released across the world.
I wonder if My Hindu Friend (original title Meu Amigo Hindu) serves any purpose besides reminding us of how tactile, erotic and ruthless Hector Babenco’s cinema was when it came to putting its protagonist for moral-spiritual scrutiny. The chameleon actor Willem Dafoe plays a Babenco-like film director Diego whose terminal illness has spread along with his egoistic attitude to life and relationships, and he has reached an emotional impasse with his girlfriend. He dumps her and is quickly seen mating with an enchantress who is chanting what she thinks are Sanskrit shlokas.
The mumbo-jumbo aura never leaves the narrative as we follow Diego and his ego into the hospital where he undergoes a bone-marrow transplant, the donor being his own brother whom he hasn’t spoken to for years. Babenco takes us right through the medical procedure giving us details of Diego’s bowel and urine status that we would rather not know.
This is an extremely cruel film, forcing the audience to face Diego’s mortality much in the same way that a child forces his parent to stay awake because it can’t sleep. There is a sadistic streak in the utterly gloomy storytelling, punctured by bouts of hallucinations where we see Diego conversing with a man, a suit and with a briefcase who is the equivalent of Yama. The God of death and Diego converse over chess while the audience is supposed to patiently try to ferret out some existential relevance to two hours of idle chatter over death, sex and betrayal.
Diego’s patient and devoted wife (played by the beautiful Brazilian bombshell Maria Fernanda Candido) is treated like trash by the genius-filmmaker. So are his brother and others associated with him. He catches his wife pleasuring herself because he can’t. Diego rushes to a prostitute for sexual authentication. He still can’t. The film ends with his new bombshell dancing erotically in the rain for no seeming reason except it makes for a stunning visual.
At one point Diego’s mother is clearly heard telling her son she never liked him. Can’t blame her. Diego comes across as a churlish, self-absorbed, unrelenting jerk whom I wouldn’t miss after death if I knew him.
Why is the film called My Hindu Friend? There is just a brief episode in the hospital where Diego befriends an ill 8-year old boy whose ‘Hindu’father is dressed like a wedding guest clothed by Manish Malhotra. Father strikes tandav poses while the son is dying. Make sense of it, and let me know.
One hopes the film served a cathartic purpose in the late and great Hector Babenco’s life. It does nothing for the audience.