Monday, January 28, 2013

Slamdance ’13: Hank and Asha

Is technology stronger than social tradition and family expectations?  That question will be put to the test when two aspiring filmmakers fall head-over-heels in “like” via online video messages in James E. Duff’s Hank and Asha (trailer here), an Audience Award winner at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival.

Hank had a short film accepted at a Czech film festival.  Asha saw it there.  She is studying at a Prague film school for a year, before returning to her regular life in India.  Something about Hank’s film prompted her to send him a video message.  Something about her question convinces Hank to respond in kind—and so on and so on.  Soon their long distance flirtation becomes surprisingly serious.  However, the inconvenient realities back in India drastically complicate any future they might have together.

The scenes filmed in Prague nicely capture its beauty and vibe, making viewers want to visit the city again.  The New York scenes did not seem to have the same effect (but to be fair, I was only in Park City for a week, hardly enough time to get homesick).  Regardless, the sense of place and displacement are a big part of what distinguishes H & A.

H & A is sort of like a hipster updating of sentimental favorites like A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters.  Dramatically, it works relatively well because of its realistically appealing leads.  Andrew Pastides is not afraid to look silly as the somewhat nebbish Hank.  He also forcefully depicts the heartsick desperation of a smitten party with no leverage to make their sort of relationship work.  Mahira Kakkar has a pixie-like charm as Asha.  However, Duff and co-screenwriter Julia Morrison have her doing things that do not really make sense in light of her full situation.  Still, both co-leads definitely convince viewers each has a deep emotional attraction to the other, despite never appearing in the same scene together.

It is easy to see why Slamdance audiences responded to H & A.  It offers some unabashed sentiment for the Facebook generation without feeling out of synch with the times.  Small but nice, Hank and Asha is recommended for Williamsburg scenesters as a counter-intuitive date movie.  Following its success at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, it should have a long, fruitful festival life ahead of it.