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POLITE SOCIETY (2023, GBR) – 7/10


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British filmmaker of Pakistani origin Nida Manzoor presented herself at Sundance with an incredibly entertaining, subversive and even witty action comedy – parody. It’s a modern, fast-paced, charming and wacky film that blatantly parodies numerous action film classics such as The Matrix, James Bond and Quentin Tarantino’s works, East Asian action-martial films and Bollywood kitsch. And it’s intentionally exaggerated, silly, and yet it’s also a great subversion and criticism of social expectations among Pakistani immigrants in Great Britain, the difference in generations and the fact that, according to tradition, patriarchy is still important among them and that women have limited choices.

Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) is a high school student with a vivid imagination and big dreams, a 17-year-old who dreams of becoming a movie stuntwoman like her heroine. Her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) has just left college and returned to her parents’ home, to traditional parents Fatima and Rafe. And while her parents don’t exactly support Ria’s dreams and would prefer her to devote herself to school, Lena is the only one who supports her and is practically her closest friend. But all that will change when Lena’s parents introduce Salim, a young Pakistani bachelor from a rich family.

Salim is educated, successful, attractive and charming and very soon Lena will fall in love with him, but Ria is convinced that something much darker is hiding behind it. She is sure that Salim and his mother, who looks like a Pakistani Cruella de Ville, have completely different plans than those they present to Lena and the rest of the family, and with the help of her schoolmates, Ria will try to uncover what is hiding under the surface. Of course, no one believes Ria and everyone thinks that it is another in a series of her childish antics with which she tries to sabotage her sister’s potentially lucrative marriage so that Lena will still stay with her, but who knows, maybe Ria is not wrong this time.

Even from the first scene, it seems like it’s a movie that doesn’t even try to be serious. So we see Ria first practicing karate with her sister or whatever and flying through the air almost like in The Matrix or Tiger and the Dragon, and then practicing what she learned at school. But beneath that frivolity, playfulness, banter, kitsch and colorfulness, a lot is hidden and Ria is actually a modern heroine who wants to make her own decisions about her life and doesn’t want her parents and tradition to tell her what she has to do. Beneath the surface, it is a classic story of second or even third generation immigrants from Pakistan, torn between modernity and tradition. But unlike her parents, who are blinded by the charm and wealth of Salim and his grotesque mother Raheela, Ria is the one who can understand that something is not right.