My Hindu Friend was directed by internationally acclaimed Argentine-Brazilian director Héctor Babenco. Babenco had fallen ill in 1994 and needed to undergo a bone marrow transplant to battle a lymphatic cancer. This background informs the subject matter of this film, ironically his final film.
In My Hindu Friend, Diego Fairman (Willem Dafoe), a film director, is diagnosed with a cancer that, if not treated with a bone marrow transplant, would, according to his doctors, end his life in three months. The cancer had been ravaging his body and his spirit, but the support of the beautiful Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido), a woman he meets and marries, helps him make the decision to pursue the transplant.
Returning to his family in America after years of being separated, Diego’s brother (Guilherme Weber) is a match for the bone marrow. Their complicated history made this difficult.
On the edge of death, Diego is visited by an unknown man (Selton Mello) who has an unlikely job to do.
During the recovery time for Diego, he meets a young Hindu boy (Rio Adlakha) in the hospital that he befriends and tells a series of stories.
This film shook me up a couple of times. The first act of this movie was extremely difficult for me to sit through. I have a tendency toward hypochondria and films with medical scenes and illnesses are tough for me. The scenes at the beginning with Diego going through his treatments and his after effects were powerful, almost too powerful, for me. The only thing that helped me as I went through that section were the separating of these medical scenes with a series of surreal scenes involving Mello and Diego’s imagination. The realistic and surreal scenes were constantly in a struggle in the film.
Throughout the whole film, there was one major constant, and that was the performance of Willem Dafoe. Dafoe has shown himself to be an extraordinary actor in the roles that he has been choosing over the last few years, and this one is no exception. Dafoe is raw and emotional, echoing the pain of his treatment and the frustration of the situation, in every glance and every look. He emoted such anguish across the entire story.
Dafoe’s performance is even more amazing considering he is able to forge a connection with the audience despite playing a character that is a horrible human being. There are several scenes in this film that made me think that the creators of this movie were specifically trying to make me hate Diego, but, no matter how much I disliked him, I could never fully dismiss the character and that was totally on the back of Willem Dafoe.
The scenes between Dafoe and the young Rio Adlakha were simple, yet they humanized this man more than anything could. During these moments, Diego was able to put aside his own concerns and selfishness for the few moments of joyous play and imagination.
The film did feel long as it dragged a bit in the middle. The ending was inspiring however, as Diego, who had split with Livia, found a free-spirited woman (Barbara Paz) who seemed to bring Diego back to life. The ending dance scene was beautiful.
This was a tough watch for me. The first act made me extremely uncomfortable, but the film picked up significantly for me when Diego met with the young Hindu boy. Despite the fact that I think Diego was a rotten human being, I could not expel him completely because of the epic performance from Willem Dafoe.