Written and directed by Bishrel Mashbat in his feature directorial debut, with time running out and desperate for cash, two Mongolian immigrants turn to crime as their only solution. Starring: Iveel Mashbat, Erdenemunkh Tumursukh, Mike Cali and Saint Ranson.
The first thing to be noted with this film is the sheer confidence, control and consistency to be found in Bishrel Mashbat’s directorial style. The opening holds a sadness, a quietness and just enough mystery, it’s well executed and kicks things off on a very intriguing note. The style is understated and minimalist, both through the use of black and white and the way that the camera moves, it allows itself to sit in a moment and let it really land. It’s fairly unusual for a debut feature, especially on lower-budget projects for a director to feel like they have such a firm, concise hold on what they want out of their film and it’s incredibly impressive. There is a case to be said that it could have moved at a faster pace to bring more of a thriller edge and sharpness into the mix but it strictly holds its ground in drama territory, with a couple of violent exceptions. It also needed to tighten up in the sound department, the mixing is fairly messy and at times too loud or too quiet.
A very interesting element of the story harks to films like Minari, it may be set in the western world but they never lose the strong cultural basis of their story, in this case with its characters’ Mongolian origin. It easily moves from one language to another, bringing together the experience of immigrants living in the US. It also touches upon the pressures of those having emigrated in order to support their family, when America isn’t the land of opportunity they’d hoped it would be. Although it’s a vein that feels like it could have been explored further and taken a larger part in the story as a whole. It is a fairly simple plot, it has a few turns to throw at you but its slow pace needed a tad more complexity to help things to continue moving along in a more satisfying manner. There’s not as much of that directorial confidence in the writing, it’s missing something for you to grab a hold of more, being quite unassuming.
Iveel Mashbat and Erdenemunkh Tumursukh take the lead well, their characters are simultaneously fairly restrained and laid back but with strong personalities, not necessarily in an outward or loud manner but they have a good presence to them. If it were to have thrown in a comedy angle it would have felt like a very typical buddy relationship, but it isn’t as simple as that. There’s a complexity to it in that they’re reliant on each other in a brotherhood sense but you can also feel that there’s a separation that grows as their situation gets complicated. They’re entirely the sole focus, the whole film rests on their shoulders and though at times it would have been great for those personalities to break out a little more, they are easy to watch.
In the Land of Lost Angels is an impressive debut from Bishrel Mashbat, it displays a sincere amount of talent, control and confidence in his style and it will be very interesting to see what he does next. There are a couple of points where it could have moved faster or tidied up the sound quality or thrown in more of an edge but the story is very consistent and has an intriguing quality to it which is hard to define. The story also could have further explored a few of its avenues, especially on the family side but there’s no denying that for a first feature on an indie budget, Mashbat did a remarkable job.