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Review by Doug Rule
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Sunday, 10/19/2008, 1:00 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at AFI Silver
English, Gaelic, Nepalese with English subtitles
IRISH DIRECTOR NEASA Ni Chianain set out to make a documentary about one of her favorite writers, and Fairytale of Kathmandu does start out as the loving portrait of Cathal Ó Searcaigh you expect. But soon enough, some suspicions a viewer might have about this 50-year-old man and the many Nepalese teenage boys he nurtures are confirmed. And so what began as a quiet, benign documentary filled with gorgeous images of landscapes in Ireland and Nepal unwittingly but powerfully develops into an investigative report that makes you realize little is as pretty or perfect as it seems. You may not understand Chianain’s fascination with Searcaigh at first, but you can certainly appreciate her pain as she herself unwittingly brings about the fall of her idol.
Searcaigh is an openly gay poet from Northern Ireland. He’s revered there, where he’s dubbed the ”guru of the hills,” but it’s in Nepal where he seems most comfortable and content. He invites Chianain to film him while on a month-long trip to the Himalayan country, where we see this pale, pudgy man with a wide face enjoying the company of various tan, slender men and boys, and learn that he supports them financially. He tells Chianain he expects nothing in return, though it gradually becomes clear he does, and that he’s fooling himself as much as anyone else about the nature of his relationships. One boy says ”He is as God to me,” though, as Chianain points out, it’s not because of Searcaigh’s artistic achievements or even his intellect.
Any Westerner is seen as a god of sorts in impoverished places such as this. That power imbalance is what makes cross-cultural relationships difficult, and why sex tourism is of concern in the developing world. Searcaigh tells Chianain he’s not interested in sex but in respectful and honest friendships with the Nepalese boys. But by the time he says this, Chianain’s loyalty in him has been shattered, and the only responsible thing to do is to talk to the boys directly, to get their side of the story. Just when you think this documentary can’t get any more powerful, it does. Chianain has made an important film against her original wishes, and in the end you may feel as compelled to activism as she.