I'm a sucker for a family movie. Particularly when said movie has enough of the bite of real life to make it something I recognize. I've heard it said that all families are in one way or another dysfunctional; my own experience has led me to believe that this is true. East is East is a film that every person who is thinking of having a family of their own should see.George Kahn (Om Puri) is a Pakistani father who is losing a battle to keep his family traditional in Britain at the very heart of the swinging seventies. He and his British wife Ella (Linda Bassett) run a chip shop and are raising their seven children. As the movie opens we see George getting his eldest son ready to be married: the arranged ceremony does not go off as planned. And from that point on, in George's mind, he has six children. All of this is within the first ten minutes of the film, and it sets up what is to come quite gracefully.
George feels his life spinning out of his control. When he's not dealing with his children who pay merely lip-service respect to his traditions, he is fretting about the war back home and keeping an eye on the anti-Pakistani climate of his neighborhood. His world is quite simply falling apart. Without announcing his plans to anyone, he sets out to bring his family more in line with what he increasingly rhapsodizes as an ideal. The only problem being his family is never going to be what he wants. And the whole time the specter of His eldest son hangs over him, making him believe that the only way to keep what he holds dear is to stamp out the corruption of the decadent British lifestyle.
I found it interesting that East is East was presented in its promotional material as a movie about these kids. It's not, at least to my mind. Don't get me wrong; all of the performances here are solid. Yet the fulcrum on which this movie rests is George, and Om Puri has given what has to be one of the bravest performances in recent memory. We, as an audience, are not given the luxury of a sympathetic lead character here. George is a frightened man, and his fear leads him to be increasingly abusive to his family. All of this culminates in a scene so simple in its animal brutality that I was tempted to give up on the whole film right then and there. And for all of it, George Khan is not a caricature of a monster, he is a flawed, feeling, human being.
Which brings me to another thing that sets this picture apart: nothing is ultimately resolved. One gets the sense that a tense understanding may have been reached, but we aren't handed resolution on a silver platter. This lack of an easy out strikes an amazingly effective bittersweet note at the end of the film. After all, at the end of the day sometimes we love our family, and sometimes we hate them, but they are who we have for better and worse and that is the most real statement of them all.Everything in this movie works so seamlessly that at the end of it all you’re left with a curious empty feeling. What goes on is sometimes funny, sometimes horrible, but all of it is brought off so un-affectedly that that the movie stays with you for days after you've seen it.