Phaim Bhuiyan is an impressive guy. By 24 years of age, the filmmaker has directed, co-written and starred in his own feature-length film taken from true events growing up in Italy to Bangladeshi parents. His film, ‘Bangla’, had its premiere at the prestigious International Film Festival Rotterdam, and has now made its way to Australia for the Lavazza Italian Film Festival. So will the film win the hearts of Aussie audiences?
Phaim (Bhuiyan) is an Italian-born boy from Bangladeshi heritage. Though he lives in Torpignattara, an area of Rome inundated by hipsters, his Muslim family are traditional and overly protective. Phaim is a typical kid growing up in an increasingly claustrophobic predicament. Caught between worlds, he’s trying to uphold his religion’s standards whilst fitting in as an average teenager: joining a band, going out with friends, and struggling to resist the endless allure of the fairer sex. At a gig one night, he works up the courage to talk to Asia (Carlotta Antonelli), a beautiful Italian girl, and the two begin spending more and more time together. But the more free-spirited Asia wants to make their relationship official, the more Phaim has to hide it from his conservative parents - but can Phaim keep Asia, his family and himself happy?
This is a modern-day romance that gets its flavour from its multicultural twist. While Phaim and Asia’s back-and-forth courtship is nothing new, being told from the perspective of a Bangladeshi gives the well-trodden tale a new take. Phaim’s religion (which decrees no sex before marriage and no drinking) and his other cultural hurdles - including his parents’ desire for him to settle down with a nice Bangladeshi girl - offer a whole new set of complications and comedic potential to their tried-and-true romantic encounter. These elements are taken advantage of markedly, with plenty of laughs and dilemmas that you certainly wouldn’t find in your typical Hollywood rom-com.
Phaim is our guide through this story, and does a capable job in the role. Although quiet and aloof, he has a certain charm that makes him likeable. His dry humour and reactions to situations steadily amplify his appeal, particularly when cinematic devices such as breaking the fourth wall come into play; he’s an underdog with good intentions, and you can’t help but hope he succeeds. So when it comes to his interactions with Asia, we want him to come out on top. Even coming from different worlds, their relationship is authentic and adorable - it’s a wonderful portrait of young love, and the two characters play off each other marvellously. Carlotta Antonelli is both stunning and charismatic, and a burst of light and energy every time she appears on screen, and a talent I can’t wait to see more from.
Although quiet and aloof, Phaim has a certain charm that makes him likeable. His dry humour and reactions to situations steadily amplify his appeal.
While ‘Bangla’ succeeds in many of its areas, it does have its share of persistent issues. Although Bhuiyan’s acting and screenplay are adequate, his directing is a little rudimentary. There are occasional flourishes, but otherwise his aesthetic style paired with cinematographer Simone D'Onofrio’s work is somewhat simplistic. This could also be attributed to the low budget of the film, but when accompanied by some awkward moments of dialogue, it does leave the final product feeling a little juvenile.
Around 39,000 Bangladeshis live in Rome, and 140,000 across Italy. There’s clearly an audience for a film like ‘Bangla’, even more so if you include anyone who’s been involved in a cross-cultural romance. Having a love story with a non-Caucasian lead is a breath of fresh air, and provides representation of everyday Bangladeshis living average lives. "Those who migrate here [to Italy] are busting their asses for providing us with a better future," Bhuiyan says. "I felt that commitment, and it gave me motivation." It’s clearly worked wonders, with ‘Bangla’ an impressive feature debut that offers a multicultural romance with a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. It’s the perfect film for a light, fluffy evening at the cinema with your better half.