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'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' Opens Venice (and People's Minds?)

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Every year, the opening film of the Venice Film Festival is a bit of a surprise - almost as much as a surprise as the moment you enter the accommodation you rented on the Lido.

As usual, everything in the apartment is stuck in time - this time it's the Seventies - although there are some more modern features, like a stereo in the kitchen I remember having at school. There is the usual creepy kids toy which stares at you wherever you go and of course, there's no kettle. But at least this year there is running water, which is nice.

Anyway, I digress because the film festival here opened with The Reluctant Fundamentalist directed by Mira Nair ('which rhymes with fire' as she once told me) and starring Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland and Kate Hudson.

The story's backbone is a clash of cultural perspectives between Pakistan and America. This is conveyed by a conversation in a student café in Lahore between two men, one an American journalist (Liev Schreiber), the other a supposed Al Qaeda sympathiser named Changez (Riz Ahmed).

The film is about 90% flashbacks. They unfold the life and times of Pakistani born Changez, as he graduates in America, becomes a big shot in Wall Street and falls in love. But soon after 9/11, his American dream ends and his Pakistani one begins and the film soon arrives back in the café in Lahore for its climax.

The story not just touches on but firmly addresses concepts of journalistic and business ethics, international politics and intervention, racism, education, common human morals, and, as the title suggests fundamentalism.

It has certainly changed my media-informed view of Pakistan and I'd now like to pay the country a visit.

However, the film's polarized arguments don't appear to have been discussed or even brought up in reviews despite that being the point of the film.

Perhaps it's not the critics' job to do so or maybe it's a fear about addressing or even touching on the film's numerous viewpoints. Or perhaps there are just too many issues to even start trying to unravel it.

Critics I've talked to simply say 'it was good,' 'it was excellent' or 'it was clichéd' (although I'm not sure how) and tend to focus on the film's technical prowess or the performances by the actors. However, reporting journalists have been less reticent on the ground and have been having good old chinwags about the issues, whether they liked the movie or not.

The day after its world premiere, I asked the charming Riz how he felt about the way it was received.

"Well there's a lot in it. I think it's inevitable different people take different things from it. Some bits will resonate with some people, other bits for other people. Hearing from journalists, they say 'well the film is about love,' 'well the film is about 9/11,' 'well the film is about Wall Street and what that does to the world' and I think that's really cool and I'm really excited by that."

Mira Nair did a little excited clap when I mentioned to her some of the different opinions.

"The biggest balancing act (of making the film) was to be balanced about the views and not sink into a stereotype myself. I knew it would be... I hoped it would be something that would instill dialogue or create dialogue in one way or another because I know it's not simple. We're not saying this is the one road. There is no one road. The only one road is that humanity is universal."

I feel this is one film you definitely shouldn't take any notice of reviews - just sit back and perceive it from your own unique perspective.

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