Cancer-ridden film director Diego is sent to the US for bone marrow transplant surgery, uprooting his new wife Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido) and throwing his family into chaos. Battling daily pain and potential death, Diego connects with a little boy (Rio Adlakha) also undergoing cancer treatment. Could his new friend be the key to surviving – and learning how to live?
A director’s film homage to their life and personal experiences can go one of two ways – Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA typifies everything that can go right with this type of project. The honesty of his single artistic perspective helps us to better connect with his narrative, even if it does mean excluding our own feelings and values on the story in parts. Homages done well are exercises in understanding, not critique. On the other side, we have Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. This film suffers from self-indulgence in its director’s own experiences to the exclusion of a purposeful plot – instead we meander through Tarantino’s daydreams for 3 hours, rather than engage with a proper story.
Unfortunately, Hector’s Babenco’s deeply personal My Hindu Friend suffers from the latter crutch of self-indulgence. The film is billed as ‘semi-autobiographical’, but it comes across as much more. My Hindu Friend follows an Argentinian-Brazilian director battling cancer – reflecting Babenco’s own treatment in the mid-90s. The parallels between art and life don’t stop there. The film incorporates plot points and themes from many of Babenco’s previous films, including dissociation from your country of origin, and returning to an unfamiliar home. The director’s own death within a year of My Hindu Friend’s release lends further credence to the movie feeling like a reflective swansong, rather than a unique narrative in and of itself. The plot seems haphazard and confused, picking up numerous narrative threads and putting them down without resolution. Perhaps it was a case of trying to do too much in one 110-minute film, but Babenco’s screenplay could have used a critical outside eye to tie together one cohesive plot.
Willem Dafoe shines as the protagonist Diego in a physically and psychologically demanding role. Dafoe’s transformation into a sinewy, sickening cancer patient is startling – helped by Babenco’s close camera work and harsh lighting, the film’s hospital sequences brutalise Diego, highlighting every scrawny muscle and bone. The film’s various fantasy sequences also demand singing, dancing, and other very physical work from Dafoe – regardless of the plot’s failings, his work is solid. Interestingly, the script for My Hindu Friend was switched from Portuguese to English after Dafoe joined the cast – this, however, greatly hamstrings the mostly Brazilian cast who struggle with the English dialogue. As such many of the acting performances come across as stilted and clumsy. This is unfortunately particularly true of Cândido’s performance as Diego’s wife Livia, whom we feel very little for. Further, the eponymous Hindu boy, played by a debuting Rio Adlakha, is a character afterthought – a major problem for a film that is supposed to centre on the relationship between Diego and him.
Overall, My Hindu Friend is an interesting experiment in surreal homage filmmaking that could have been so much more.
My Hindu Friend is available on a range of digital streaming platforms, including Google Play. Click below and enjoy!