Brazilian filmmaker Hector Babenco came to international attention with 1985’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. That went on to make, among other films Ironweed and At Play In The Fields Of The Lord before dying of cancer in 2016. Before he died though he made one final film, the semi-autobiographical My Hindu Friend (originally titled My Last Friend) about his battle with the disease. Plans for a US release were shelved after his death. Now Rock Salt Releasing has seen fit to remedy that.
Diego Fairman (Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse, Streets Of Fire) has just been informed he has cancer. Even worse it’s bone cancer and it’s spreading. He needs a bone marrow transplant if he wants to live. His estranged brother Antonio (Guilherme Weber) is willing to provide the marrow, for a price. So he, his wife Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido) Antonio and his mother head to Seattle for the operation.
In the hospital, he’s regularly visited by the messenger of death, for some reason dubbed The Common Man (Selton Mello) with whom he plays chess. Eventually, he gets a roommate, a young Hindu boy (Rio Adlakha) who suffers from the same disease.
His cancer goes into remission after the operation. But he still has to deal with the toll it has taken on his body and his life. And try to come to terms with these changes.
My Hindu Friend sells itself as a story of an unlikely friendship. And by extension, I expected it to be a story of how that friendship helped Diego turn his life around. Or at least come to terms with his situation. It isn’t. The boy is barely in the film, indeed he’s simply referred to as “Hindu Friend” in the credits. That’s how unimportant he is to the film overall.
What My Hindu Friend is, is the story of an unrepentant asshole who has a brush with death and remains an unrepentant asshole. But that’s fitting since most of those around him are also assholes. And if that’s your thing then this should be right up your alley. But two hours of lines like “If one of us has to die I’d rather it was you” was way more than I needed.
There are the odd nice touches, such as his interaction with Common Man who’s portrayed not as some terrifying entity but a cog in a supernatural corporate structure. There are also unexpected musical numbers that made a nice contrast to the rest of the film’s glum, self-absorbed tone.
I know there is an audience for films like My Hindu Friend, and hopefully, it finds it as Dafoe gives a great performance. He also looks like he starved off most of his body weight to play the cancer-stricken Diego. The film was shot in English to accommodate his performance. Though at the same time it may have caused some of the rather bad dialogue from the mostly Brazilian cast.
Fans of darker drama may appreciate My Hindu Friend but I was left fairly cold.
Rock Salt Releasing is giving My Hindu Friend a limited week-long theatrical release beginning the 17th in NY, LA, Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, Minneapolis, ATL, Phoenix, Houston, and Chicago. It will be available digitally on the same day.