It's strengths are the original subject and characters. Have you ever seen an anti-hero widower chef living in the forest be the protagonist of a film? Probably not. We need more of these offbeat concepts to freshen up stale Hollywood. Also, the chef and wine-drinking hipster trend has been around for so long, but you never see it fictionalized using a common plot concept.
Why this movie isn't great is the lack of development of everything. I don't see how Cage's character loved that pig so much. There's no evidence he needed it that badly. He doesn't even care for truffles for god's sake. This renders the premise of stealing a truffle pig stupid and the people who do it (Amir's dad) aren't even invested.
Overall, I see a potentially great 2-hour movie mutilated into a 90 minute montage. A lot needs to be fleshed out to extract the right emotions and to show the logical motivations of some characters. Even Cage's character's mourning seems fake on the whole. Original yet incomplete.
There's a part in the film where the Richard III director Messala reads a review of his failed production. I'm paraphrasing, but the critic from the review says that there's a kind of pointless German expressionism to everyone's acting. The director of this unwatchable film included that scene presciently knowing that wise critics would also say that about "L'important c'est d'aimer."
Yes, this must be the most overacted film. It's something about Schneider and Kinski that makes this film laughable. I've always felt German-language actors of the era overacted as a way to display soul, edginess, and perhaps because they were taught to adulate their heritage cinema, but gosh... yawn. There's something utterly un-French about this bizarre French-language film. It's also quite one note with the histrionics and irrelevant nudity. Fail. Just don't.
Impressionistic and Documentarian Story of a Collective Dream
This subtle film is impressionistic and documentarian. It's the story of a collective told lyrically. I'm reminded of Hiroshima Mon Amour without the affect and focus around two specific lovers.
Faya Dayi is also the universal story of drug addiction, oppression, marginalization, escapism (literal and metaphorical), love (family, nation, land, place, space). Replace khat with another drug and see how illicit substances not only control minds but endemic economies as well. We may not know the Ethiopia of this film, but we can make certain parallels with the struggles of disenfranchised people from all over the world, who might even live in cities like Chicago, for instance, and the story would resonate somehow despite the lavish pastoral setting, which harkens to a glorious past and radiant people.
The film often makes you wonder where the young men plan on landing and what they plan on doing should they leave the miasma of their ancestral land behind to become refugees willing to be eaten by the fish of the sea on a perilous voyage.
This film is also the story of the films that go on in people's minds (dreams) as Mohammed reveals. In other words, it's a film about film. It's about the khat that makes people unpredictable and engenders dreams or films of the mind, yes; still, it's also about that infinite metatheatre of films within this one photographic film uniting an entire community's interior monologues into a single story. Really, this explains the film's form and delivery, which won't be everyone's cup of tea; it's also the story of "sober" dreams displayed by the film's youth. Will the powerful Eurocentric world offer them predictability? A rational, linear, powerful alternative to their seemingly cyclical misery?
The film is gorgeously shot using lots of chiaroscuro elements and photographic techniques. I was impressed with all the little frames used to make this point-doorways, archways, bowers with light piercing true at subtle yet important moments. Kind of like Antonioni and Caravaggio but with regard to a different subject, time, and place. Much more profound and personal.
This film is utterly unique and yet is in conversation with so much philosophically in terms of form, art, culture, sociology. There's much to glean, but you have to let go in order to hold on, if that makes sense. Let the people tell their story. Don't force them into your own frame of mind (to borrow a photographic term).
Worth watching and rewatching if you can on Criterion.