Fairytale of Kathmandu

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Venue: Edinburgh Film Festival.

EDINBURGH -- The idea of “poetic license” takes on a whole new meaning in “Fairytale of Kathmandu,” a thought-provoking but oddly unsatisfying hour-long documentary made for Irish TV that has sparked major controversy within the country. The ethical issues it explores will ensure film-festival exposure.

Focus is on acclaimed Gaelic-language poet Cathal O Searcaigh (pronounced ‘Sharkey’), who invited documentarian Neasa Ni Chianain to chronicle one of his regular trips to Nepal. O Searcaigh sees himself as benefactor to the Himalayan republic’s citizens, specifically the young men whose education he funds. The fact that O Searcaigh also shares his bed with many such youths -- all above the local age of consent -- eventually causes Ni Chianain grave concern.

Genial and articulate, O Searcaigh seems an unlikely “villain.” Yet seen through Ni Chianain’s eyes, he emerges as a self-deluding hypocrite, a highbrow “sex-tourist,” who talks about protecting the “innocence” of his boys while exploiting it in a manner that may not be illegal but certainly comes across as immoral. It’s unfortunate that Ni Chianain waits so long before confronting her one-time idol, who has only a couple of flustered minutes to defend himself.

Trial by documentary? Perhaps. There’s rather more to this story than “Fairytale of Kathmandu” is able to address, making it a rare instance where a movie should ideally be much longer than its actual running time.
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