La Semaine de la Critique Review: Moin Hussain’s ‘Naptha’

Naptha Review - 2018 Moin Hussain Short Film

Moin Hussain’s Naptha is a classic, compact portrait of a strained father-son relationship that addresses the angst of aging and the pain that familial relationships can bring. Malik (Ernest Ignatius) is the aging father who operates a petrol station somewhere in the British countryside with the grudging assistance of his thirty-something son, Faraz (Divian Ladwa). Both men have come to a tipping point in their lives as they question the choices and decisions they have made, while contemplating their future ones. Malik, who is cognizant that his health is failing, wants to ignite in his son a spark for the family business. Faraz, meanwhile, has an epiphany with the discovery of his first gray hair, awakening an awareness that his apathy has mired him in a mundane existence alongside his father. Naptha centers on the two men exchanging roles as Malik becomes more dependent, while his son, Faraz, reluctantly ascends to independence. Layered on top of this typical generational strain is the complication that, despite their shared DNA, the two men are the products of different cultures.

Highlighting the disconnection between father and son is Malik’s regressive speech in a foreign language, which is met by Faraz’s distant stares. Hussain uses each shot to build the tension between the characters with a long take of a broken bottle of milk, emphasizing the fractured relationship these two men share. Hussain utilizes little dialogue, relying frequently on varying shades of light to tell the tale.

A distinctive aspect of Naptha is the way it incorporates VHS tapes as a means to communicate with the past. Rather than employing cliché flashback sequences, Hussain creates a sense of texture and meta-narrative. It could be that these VHS sequences are part of the past that Malik keeps referencing. Malik seems haunted by the images by pondering the great “What if?“ Has his choice to leave behind his native land, family and culture born fruit? In contrast to Malik’s retrospective reflection, Faraz has avoided any such consequential life decisions up to this point. In a clever juxtaposition to Malik’s nostalgic video viewing, Hussain presents Faraz watching the brain candy film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964).

Overall, Naptha is a beautiful film that robustly tackles relevant subject matter in a way that never feels forced or overly melodramatic. At times, Naptha executes like a sharp and well-executed mirror version of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (2013), but with more emphasis on the spiritual nature of human existence. Hussain’s film reaches a spiritual climax, however, the lack of specificity about the father’s religious background is a shortcoming. Grounded in reality, yet with a sci-fi flare, Naptha touches the heart.

Peter Bell (@PeterGBell25) is a 2016 Master of Arts – Film Studies graduate of Columbia University School of Arts in New York City. His interests include film history, film theory and film criticism. Ever since watching TCM as a child, Peter has had a passion for film, always trying to add greater context to film for others. His favorite films include Chinatown, Blade Runner, Lawrence of Arabia, A Shot in the Dark and Inception. Peter believes movie theaters are still the optimal forum for film viewing, discussion and discovering fresh perspectives on culture.