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Bodkin Ras: A docu-narrative experiment that delivers a humanistic message


- Dutch artist Kaweh Modiri harnesses the power of documentary in favour of a fictive story

Bodkin Ras: A docu-narrative experiment that delivers a humanistic message

The Bright Future section of the 45th International Film Festival Rotterdam, which “groups together all of the innovative and emerging ideas and filmmakers that are trying to nurture the cinematic landscape through their work”, in the words of the festival's director, Bero Beyer, has welcomed the feature debut Bodkin Ras [+see also:
film profile
by Dutch artist and filmmaker of Iranian descent Kaweh Modiri. The filmmaker had previously torn down the boundaries between fiction and documentary in his thesis short film, My Burglar and Me, which was also world-premiered at the IFFR in 2011.

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Modiri has another stab at scrambling genre and format in Bodkin Ras, interweaving real-life stories into the script either fully or partially, in order to warp the already-established notion of docu-fiction. The recent proliferation of documentary/fiction medleys has given rise to a new genre spectrum ranging from the mockumentary-type British indie Black Pond [+see also:
interview: Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley
film profile
to the fable-like nature of Lost and Beautiful [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Pietro Marcello ­
film profile
. The director of Bodkin Ras nudges the marker a little closer to reality, casting the entire film with the authentic inhabitants (everybody but lead actor Sohrab Fazelpour Bayat) of the remote Scottish town of Forres, thus making not only their faces, but also their life stories, an integral part of the narrative.

The introductory scenes flesh out the main narrative arc of a fugitive who does not blend into this almost hermetically sealed community, in addition to providing something of a subversive version of a postcard from Forres in their almost caricature-like depiction of the local inhabitants, one of whom goes by the name of Hitler. The supporting characters comment on the fictional protagonist via talking-heads scenes (a convention often used in documentaries) or through voice-overs, while confessing their genuine aspirations, traumas and doubts. This merges seamlessly with the darker tone of a grim thriller, before evolving into a humanistic perspective on the “cursed” residents of Forres.

The ingeniousness of some of the scenes, especially those involving the character of local fencer Eddie (Eddie Patton), is a sudden and unexpected delight, and one scene in particular gradually evolves into one of the most moving moments in the film without compromising its legitimacy in the narrative. On the contrary, it deepens our comprehension of the fictional protagonist and introduces the leitmotif of separation (and segregation) through the fence-building while avoiding any lyricism.

While principally following the enigma of the character of Bodkin Ras as he tries to fit in with rather eccentric company, the film has another strength in its acknowledged narrator, the no-less-interesting Red James (James Macmillan). Macmillan, a Scotsman who has spent time in prison, mirrors the fictive protagonist and, as a “folk” philosopher, relates his own fate and opinions moulded by his experiences to the central character, especially in his commentaries on a society that triggers ostracisation, thus sparking the antagonism that can eventually lead to tragedy.

Modiri has crafted a modern, highly topical and formally absorbing parallel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Besides the interplay of personal and communal guilt by virtue of choosing a protagonist who is ethnically different (despite the fact that it seems that the main character, similarly to Modiri, is a Dutch citizen of Iranian descent), the narrative also shifts to a social commentary that coincides with the current state of affairs in Europe.

The director has managed to ensure that the elements remain almost seamlessly integrated, with the humanistic narrative taking over the experimental nature of the film. Despite an unnecessary melodramatic outburst in the third act, Bodkin Ras has huge potential to play well outside the festival circuit, and could well connect with a wider audience through its real-life stories and their protagonists, as well as the movie's unsentimental tone.

Bodkin Ras was produced by Raymond van de Kaaij of Revolver Amsterdam, and co-produced by Belgian company Inti Films and Blue Iris Films. The film was supported by the Netherlands Film Fund, the Flemish Audiovisual Fund, the Mondriaan Fund/BKVB and Voordekunst.

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