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The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is only slightly extraordinary

A modern fable about a petty thief who goes looking for riches has a restless charm.

Including the word “extraordinary” in the title of your film is a bold gamble. It had better live up to its promise. This French-produced, English-language adaptation of Romain Puértolas’ 2013 novel certainly does, in the strictest dictionary definition sense. It is extra-ordinary: it’s a wackily rambunctious stew of ideas and emotions, all of which gets chucked at the screen, but only some of it sticks.

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is something of a modern fable. Aja, played by Tamil Bollywood star Dhanush, is a street trickster and petty thief from Mumbai’s lower orders who, by circumstance and the “tyranny of chance”, gets bounced from Paris to Libya, via Dover, Barcelona and Rome, in search of riches. His transport includes a cargo ship, hot-air balloon, deportation plane and an Ikea wardrobe (don’t ask).

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

There’s a strange hotchpotch of characters along the way, some intriguing, such as Barkhad Abdi’s asylum seeker, others outlandish (Ben Miller’s boogieing border-patrol officer). And, as with Aja’s travels, the film ricochets and pinballs all over the place, varying wildly in tone. It’s partly about Europe’s migrant crisis and the absurdity of statelessness, but it treats this fraught subject with breezy insouciance. The sense of humour swings from knowing and ironic to simple and slapstick.

There’s also many a diversionary longueur: one character’s attempt to adopt a “lesbian lifestyle”, something about an inter-Mafia spat in Rome and some poor pyjama-clad actor who does nothing but wander on to the set and smile at a television. And the less said about two excruciating dance sequences, the better.

But the film has a restless charm and dashes of magic realism (how else is all of this to be explained?) and, when all’s said and done, is rather undemanding, as long as you don’t leave your credulity at the door.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★

Video: Icon Films Australia & New Zealand

This article was first published in the May 11, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.