Directed by Tariq Umar Khan and Sapan Narula | Review by Miguel Ángel BarrosoMi’raj, a film directed by Tariq Umar Khan and Sapan Narula, shows a desperate search through a path plagued by extreme difficulties (more psychic than physical) to reach the purifying catharsis and, almost always, redemptive, although the end of the road can lead to tragedy. Mi’raj can be considered a small tragedy embedded in the soul of a man with a past that we do not know and a future as uncertain as his own way through a nature that intimates despite its beauty. This film is full of initiatory trips. In one way or another, the filmmakers have always felt the need to show viewers the desperate need for one’s escape to nowhere; although the human being always runs away looking for something, he always runs away to prove that his life still belongs to him in some way, and that almost unconscious journey is the salvation of his life.
The starting point is simple: a man (apparently happy) crosses a lost carriage between lonely and mysterious valleys with his car. He carries with him all the comforts: listening to music, carrying several suitcases full of clothes and objects belonging to an opulent society, which you can see well in the film, and also he has confidence in himself. It is precisely his disdain for others, which will mark his way to hell in which there will be no turning back when his luxurious vehicle is damaged in the middle of nowhere. And that’s where the game of directors begins with the viewer; this is the turning point necessary to be accomplices of the film and everything that is reported in an hour and a half.
From the beginning the aesthetics of the film is installed: we never see the face of the protagonist, since it is filmed with a subjective camera (it is as if we saw his life through himself), and at the same time there is an objective camera that shows us what general, the great landscapes, the dark areas that the protagonist does not let us see. This idea is good, although perhaps it could have been more qualified, or planned better, since at a certain moment it produces a certain narrative boredom, since the element of surprise is gradually diluted as “time” becomes more evident. The game raised by the filmmakers is somewhat exposed.
But despite all this, the proposed objective has coherence to the end and endows the film with narrative robustness, combined with a particular and peculiar dance music (sometimes evokes Viennese style music with all its worldly decadence), the very well worked environmental sounds and the constant voices of the two protagonists who speak and speak without stopping to constantly express their states of mind to the viewer.
There is no doubt that it is a confrontation with the reflected nature of the civilized world that we do not see, but which we feel and of which we have brief references due to the objects and utensils that are showing us throughout history. But little by little, all this 21st century props: mobiles, modern cars, wi-fi, computers, etc., are falling into oblivion, disappears before the mole of the impregnable and arrogant nature that crushes the proud man and respects those who abide by its humble and container rules.
It could be more subtle the lesson that the directors Tariq Umar and Sapan Narula, they want to give us, but their idea starts from a pure idea that tries to radiograph the human soul through values that have to be recovered and other values that have to be thrown by the rail. Thus, the film is a catalog of survival, of getting rid of the superfluous, of the reasons for selfishness, of material possession, of emptying the excess baggage, of learning to live together (not only with others, but with ourselves), to face the hostile, to learn that others can help and teach us. The world exists only to the extent that we create and inhabit it. The structure of the film also plays with dreamlike scenes, full of mysterious effects of sharp sounds, and distressing images that translate into nightmares of the protagonist. Perhaps a little of this effect is abused, since it is repeated too many times throughout the film.
This repetition of the things that have already been shown to us could be perhaps the weakest part of this estimable film that dips with courage and risk within the human psyche and tries to get closer to the best and the worst of ourselves. And something terrible is highlighted: fear, fear, and panic to loneliness.
Yes, finally, we understand that the worst of our life is not the lack of wealth, nor the social position, nor the artistic recognition, nor the order of our life in relation to a globalized world that bathes in unstoppable and miraculous technology. Yes, the worst of all is the loneliness, the fear to go all the way and meet the wolves, with the edge of the teeth, with the sharp sounds of terror, with the knife of our own starvation, with the blood spilled from our absolute ignorance and emptiness.
In short, Mi’raj is a singular, daring and very risky film, which takes advantage of the minimalism in which it moves, leaving the viewer plunged in good and evil, but also in the breath of hope.
Miguel Ángel Barroso García is a dedicated and published Film Historian. His credits include organizing numerous international film festivals and authoring several books including “The Hundred Best Films of Italian Cinema History” (2008) and “The Hundred Best Films of the 20th Century” (2009). Miguel organized the videoconference, “The Unforgettable Anna Magnani”, in tribute to the actress Anna Magnani on the centenary of his birth, held at the Italian Cultural Instituto Madrid.