Film Review: ‘Bodkin Ras’

A mysterious stranger arrives in a Scottish town, looking to escape his past, in Kaweh Modiri’s imbalanced docu-fiction hybrid.

Courtesy of SXSW Film Festival

A dark stranger walks into a Scottish town trying to escape his past in Kaweh Modiri’s Western-inspired docu-fiction hybrid, “Bodkin Ras.” As usual with such fusions, the nonfiction elements hold considerably more emotional weight than what’s been invented, resulting in a script imbalance that leaves an unsatisfactory taste in the mouth, despite the pic’s overall watchability. “Bodkin” will benefit from the current fad for such genre benders, resulting in scattered fest play.

The premise is intriguing: Mystery man Bodkin Ras (Sohrab Bayat, the sole professional actor here) heads to Forres, in northeast Scotland, running from a crime gone awry in the Netherlands. The townspeople react with initial suspicion, but gradually he’s accepted by a group of citizens with troubled pasts of their own. Modiri interweaves these fictional scenes with glimpses into the real lives of some of the inhabitants, mostly men with a history of alcoholism and sad stories to tell.

Chief among them is Eddie Paton, a fence builder who hires Bodkin after the newcomer is sacked from a restaurant job. When not at work, Paton mostly spends his time at a pub called the Eagle, numbing himself in order to push away the demons that beset him. The rawness of Paton’s inner pain makes him by far the most captivating figure here, though it’s precisely this pain that calls into question the whole concept of docu-fiction: Blurring the line diminishes the genuine emotional pull of real trauma, so by equating a constructed narrative with documentary footage, the helmer merely rides the wave of fashion while allowing truth to drown in relativism.

It’s impossible to know how much is real with regard to the character of Lily (Lily Szramko), an independent-spirited teen who’s desperate to leave town and return to her birthplace, London. Lily is drawn to Bodkin’s outsider vibe, and the two develop a relationship, though not along the lines described in the official website’s synopsis, which must represent an earlier version of the project.

Acting as a kind of narrator is James “Red” Macmillan, a weathered local who’s seen the world and hints at a shadowy past filled with violence. Modiri is keen to push this darkness with its implication that evil may lurk somewhere inside us all, yet it’s all smoke and mirrors, full of veiled asides that amount to nothing apart from a general sensation of a town full of down-and-outers, on the edge of society.

Iranian-Dutch actor Bayat maintains a hungry, sullen look throughout, proclaiming his outsider status at all times. Interactions with the non-professional cast are seamless, thanks to a commendable naturalism from the locals, who apparently are all playing themselves. Visuals are far too bouncy at the start but settle into an attractive, indie handheld aesthetic.

Film Review: ‘Bodkin Ras’

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Bright Future), Feb. 1, 2016. (Also in SXSW Film Festival — SXGlobal.) Running time: 77 MIN.

  • Production: (Netherlands-Belgium) A Revolver Amsterdam presentation of a Revolver Amsterdam, Inti Films production. Produced by Raymond van der Kaaij. Coproducers, Peter Krueger, Kaweh Modiri.
  • Crew: Directed, written by Kaweh Modiri. Camera (color), Daan Nieuwenhuis; editor, Jan de Coster; music, Mohsen Namjoo; production designer, Lindsay McGee; costume designer, Madeleine Drewell; sound, Charo Calvo, Ranko Paukovic, Jack Coghill; line producer, Katie Crook; assistant director, Rory Stewart.
  • With: Sohrab Bayat, Lily Szramko, Eddie Paton, James “Red” Macmillan, Sean O’Reilly. (English, Dutch, Farsi dialogue)