It might not be considered Asian by its production country (UK), the origins of its writer/director Michael Winterbottom (UK, again), or, frankly, by its style that fits the bill of a British globe-trotting thriller, but “The Wedding Guest”, showing at Art Film Fest in Košice, deserves its Asian Movie Pulse review. At least the filming locations were in India and Pakistan, the cast consists of Indian-British star actors and the theme is very much rooted in the culture Indian sub-continent, fresh, approached from an interesting angle and wrapped up in a smooth genre-esque ride.
In the opening montage, we get to see a still nameless, solitary man (Dev Patel), preparing himself for the trip. The nature of his mission is not clear yet, but is certainly clandestine, as he is carrying multiple passports. Once in Pakistan, he travels across the country, switching car rentals every couple hundred miles and buying equipment he might need. The things become clearer once he arrives to a wedding party: the man named Jay is an intelligence operative of sorts, an extractor and his mission is kidnapping the bride at wedding, Samira (energetic Radhika Apte), thus saving her from the arranged marriage and delivering her to her Indian boyfriend Deepesh (Jim Sarbh, deliciously sleazy).
The things go south soon enough. Jay shoots a guard who interrupted him in action and Deepesh wants nothing to do with the mission any more, practically betraying his girlfriend. Jay ends up stuck with Samira on the road to and across India, as it proves that she is not just a passive victim, but a brainy woman with the taste for adventure and a very particular angle of her own. As it turns out, her kidnapping was a part of a grander, less romantic, but more financially lucrative scheme involving the products of Deepesh’s family trade – diamonds, both real and fake. In the game of the intrigue that ensues, the hired gun seems to be the most ethical and the least scheming of the trio.
There is nothing much to be said in the terms of a more detailed analysis of the ensuing actions before getting deep into spoiler territory. Basically, what we expect is what we get: a moderately tense thriller with a road movie taste, evidently written by a seasoned screenwriter and executed by a competent director, which Michael Winterbottom is. “The Wedding Guest” is a solid film, though an attempt at a love story further on was a bit underwhelming. The film is directed with clarity, quite predictable from the perspective of a viewer with a certain experience, never disorienting, easy to watch and to follow.
The acting is completely on the expected level, although the characters seem to be quite typical with not much room left for improvisation. Dev Patel is not one of the biggest acting names both in the UK and in India for no reason and Radhika Apte channels her character’s feeling of being torn apart between worlds quite gracefully. On the technical level, “The Wedding Guest” is also predictable in a way: cinematography by Giles Nuttgens is postcard-attractive, editing handled by Marc Richardson is smooth, but Harry Escott’s score occasionally gets too revealing and emotionally dictating.
The only thing “The Wedding Guest” is exceptional at is a completely fresh, clear-eyed and no-bullsh*t take on the clash of the cultures and traditions that don’t correspond with a modern world. It is quite refreshing to see a film that holds no punches regarding the culture of arranged marriages, but does not dwell too much on it either, and a film that steers clear from the post-colonial patronizing, but does not fall into a trap of political correctness. In the process, the female character becomes atypically sincere and genuine about her experiences and perspectives and chooses to fight back the only way she possibly can – using her brains.