Some cultural items don’t translate over the Central Asian--and-beyond divide. A few of Western civilization’s pop narcotics, however, have displayed a surprising universality: the Big Mac, Titanic and a TV show in which everyday people try to become the next big singing sensation. Simon Fuller’s 2001 British hit, Pop Idol, begot our American Idol, but the fact that war-torn Afghanistan (!) also has its own version—named Afghan Star—is a shock. The program’s massive popularity seems perfectly natural. It’s one thing for Midwesterners to croon competitively on television, and a whole different ball game when people for whom music has been forbidden and democracy is a pipe dream get to capture hearts by carrying a tune.
At its best, Havana Marking’s doc on four contestants gunning for the top prize explicitly underlines how the show represents something beyond entertainment. Warring ethnicities are harmonious, in every sense of the word; a contestant who dares to dance during a number—a huge social taboo—soon receives death threats. It’s the Spellbound-lite aspects of the movie that, oddly, puncture the proceedings. Though the who-will-win? structure both allows a too-brief peek into the quartet’s backgrounds and generates tension, the answer almost seems superfluous. The phenomenon itself is the real star.—David Fear
Opens Fri; Cinema Village. Find showtimes