Film Review: Unfreedom

Repellent, exploitative treatment of questions of freedom in the Muslim world.
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Raj Amit Kumar's grim drama tracks the different yet similar stories of two free-thinking Muslims and the severe price they must pay for their bold independence.  In New York City, esteemed intellectual Fareed (Victor Banerjee) plans to give a speech about universal peace and understanding, not knowing that incredibly involved plans are afoot for his kidnapping by Muslim extremists. Meanwhile, in Delhi, radical lesbian artist Sakhi (Bhavani Lee) indulges in bold LGBT activism, while dealing with the attentions of her ex-lover Leela (Preeti Gupta), who wants to run off with her to escape a dreaded arranged marriage.  All three characters are eventually held captive by intolerant tormentors who despise what they stand for.

The clumsily titled Unfreedom is a major contender for the worst film of 2015. Director Kumar may think he's making a compassionate plea for a loving acceptance of difference, but the repellent relish with which he films the incessant, violent brutalization of his characters is nothing more than pure exploitation. Cheesy "cinematic" devices like lap dissolves and ham-handed childhood flashbacks sprinkled throughout are crushingly obvious and don't help matters in the least. In regard to the LGBT content of the film, Kumar seems far more interested in letting his camera linger on the naked bodies and graphic sex of the women—every straight guy's so-called fantasy—when they briefly escape to the desert than any real queer issues in a brutally homophobic world. A hideous double rape is the frankly obscene note on which this skin-crawling claptrap (mercifully) ends. There is nothing this director won't stoop to—even throwing a terrified, innocent child into the mix to commit murder after he witnesses his mother being killed—and you watch aghast at the absolute wrongheadedness of it all. Despite freedom of artistic expression, one can almost understand why this reprehensible film was banned in India, being utterly worthless, morally suspect, and an aesthetic outrage to boot.

The actors, including Banerjee (who saw far better days in David Lean's swan song, A Passage to India, 30 years ago), are but mere pawns in Kumar's fell plan, but Lee should be cited for a particularly grating, shrill and inept performance which makes sympathy for her character difficult to come by.

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