DRAGON CHOW (Jan Schütte, 1987)

The German critics named Drachenfutter—literally, Dragon Feed—the year’s best film. Neatly—perhaps a bit too neatly—written by Jan Schütte and Thomas Strittmatter, it is beautifully directed by Schütte, whose first feature it was. Schütte’s most recent film is Love Comes Lately (2007), based on stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and among the numerous films Schütte made in between is a brilliant one about Bertolt Brecht, Farewell, Brecht’s Last Summer (2000).
     Gentle Shejad (Bhasker Patel, a lovely performance) is a Pakistani immigrant in Hamburg who fails against cold-blooded German bureaucracy to secure amnesty for fellow Pakistani immigrant Rashid, who likely would end up dead in prison, like his brother, if he were deported to Pakistan. (At considerable expense, Rashid heads for the U.S.—although we never know, as those left behind rarely do, whether the scheme to transport Rashid is legitimate, much less realistic. That he is supposed to pass through Tuxedo from Mexico, which might mean Texas, hardly conjures certainty.) Shejad ends up working alongside Xiao in a Chinese restaurant; the two pool their resources, including an immense amount of work, to open a restaurant of their own—a Pakistani restaurant, by vote of a bevy of people sampling both men’s cooking. The cock-eyed “grand opening” sign in the street window foretells disaster. The first night’s dinner is interrupted by Shejad’s arrest and deportation. Shejad looks resigned; Xiao is left perhaps even more helpless.
     This devastating conclusion, in context, carries ancient echoes of a “failed feast,” and its speed resembles an assault of the Furies. We are haunted by memories of Shejad’s kindness—as when, onboard a train, he borrows a young girl’s scissors, retreats with his newspaper, returns with a gift for this passing stranger: a long cut-out of symmetrical links.

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