The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has an annoying habit of bungling the Best Foreign Language Film category.The award is intended to draw attention to worthy films that just happen to be subtitled. But because it’s awarded to an individual country, the Oscar often goes to lesser films because terrific movies were not properly appreciated in their home country (like “Talk to Her” or “Europa Europa”). Or they were actually made with the resources of two or more countries (like the “Three Colors” trilogy or “Lilja 4-ever”).
Add Asif Kapadia’s powerful debut movie “The Warrior” to this growing list of Oscar fumbles.
The Academy slighted this Hindi-language British flick because it was shot in India. As with the “Three Colors” movies and “Lilya 4-ever,” the current international realities of filmmaking (making a movie for a single country’s market can be financial suicide) have been ignored in order to match an antiquated definition of a foreign film.
That’s not the only indignity this 2001 movie has received. After winning a cornucopia of awards in the Europe, “The Warrior” languished in Miramax’s vault as its founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein prepared to leave the company and received only a paltry release in July of 2005. Many who’d been waiting to see it never got the chance.
Thankfully, Miramax was kind enough to send me a screener so I can now at least comment on and gladly recommend a movie that never played in my hometown of Kansas City. Maybe if a few more of my peers cry out in the wilderness (or in flyover country), “The Warrior” can finally receive a proper video release here in the States.
What’s most striking about “The Warrior” is that its Indian setting belies a strangely universal story. A soldier named Lafcadia (Irfan Khan) who works for a regional lord (Anupam Shyam) begins to question his calling. His master sends him to attack a village that the leader believes has been stiffing him on their taxes.
Lafcadia carries out the mission but spares a woman and her young daughter (Mandakini Goswami and Sunita Sharma) who’ve befriended his son (Puru Chibber). He abruptly abandons the raid, but his boss does not accept resignations.
Lafcadia is now an outlaw, and he must wander toward the mountains where he was born with a clever thief (Noor Mani) and an eerily perceptive blind woman (Damayanti Marfatia).
As it progresses at a quick but agreeable pace, “The Warrior” unfolds like a compelling folk tale about loss and redemption that could happen in any locale. The language of “The Warrior” may be Hindi, but the script by Tim Miller and director Kapadia is remarkably accessible and has sparse dialogue.
If subtitles turn you off of foreign movies, you won’t have much of a problem with this one. Most of the film is carried by Khan’s expressive face. Cinematographer Roman Osin (who would later go on to do equally amazing work in the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice”) captures dozens of austere but gorgeous vistas without losing focus on the people who inhabit them.Should you ever be able to catch this at a special screening or on a region free DVD, take advantage of the opportunity. Don’t let the Academy and a limp Stateside release stop you from giving “The Warrior” a fighting chance.