Winner of two jury awards at Moscow International Film Festival, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s latest work is loosely inspired on a terrorist attack that took place in Bangladesh in 2016, features an international cast including India’s Parambrata Chatterjee, Bangladesh’s Nusrat Imrose Tisha, and Palestine’s Eyad Hourani and is shot on a single take. Unfortunately, it was banned in Bangladesh on the grounds it could “damage the country’s reputation” and incite religious hatred (source: Hollywood Reporter).
The story unfolds a little before and during the attack on an eatery in Dhaka, where the Sunni terrorists led by an older foreigner and Bangladeshi Polash divide their hostages based on their religion, ethnicity and gender, killing some of them immediately, and keeping others both as collateral and in order to “examine” them before they kill them. A number of verbal “debates” begin, where the captors try to defend their religion, gender, culture and ideology, against the sadly pragmatist and definitely mislead accusations of their captors. Despite being terrified, a number of captors show bravery in answering back, only for most of them to be shot cold-heartedly, with ridiculous excuses as the one for a pregnant woman, who hears her killer accusing all Westerners for killing children in Iraq and Syria before she gets a bullet in the stomach. As time passes, some regret surfaces among the ranks of the terrorists, but even that does not last for long, while the tension resulting for the police forces gathered outside the eatery, mounts.
Mostofa Sarwar Farooki directs an agonizing thriller that functions much like a stage play through the single take approach. Angst may be the main ingredient of the narrative but the focus lies elsewhere, as we watch the captors countering the terrorist’s fundamentalist rhetoric with logic and knowledge, only to be met with violence and death by doing so. The fact that the killings are unjustified becomes quite apparent, as the terrorists shoot their captors for reasons that seem ridiculous, without even bothering to ask any additional questions, at least when they do ask before they kill.
Through this approach, by highlighting the tragic ridiculousness of the whole terrorist rhetoric, Farooki manages to highlight the benefits of tolerance and education, but at the same time stresses the fact that in the area, guns and not words or thoughts are the ones in command.
Apart from the sociopolitical comment, the film is also great as a spectacle. Aziz Zhambakiyev’s cinematography is excellent in changing the focus in a rather speedy fashion that keeps the tension from wavering even from a single moment, in a rather difficult task of shooting an 83-minute film in one take. His and the director’s approach to the killings, by not showing the actual shooting but only the victim dying is quite smart, as it “forces” the audience to focus on the consequences of violence rather than the action. Great work has been also done in the sound department, with the killings and the shootings in the background mirroring the ones in focus in realism, communicating rather eloquently the violent chaos that is dominating the setting.
The acting is also on a very high level, with the cast looking confident in their parts, with Parambrata Chatterjee as Polash and Nusrat Imrose Tisha as Raisa, a girl that survives the initial massacre and is the main source of criticism for the terrorist’s “ideology” standing out.
“Saturday Afternoon” is a great film that manages to work on an artistic, entertainment and context-commentary level, and a great testament to Farooki’s directorial prowess.