Donkeyhead is a 2021 drama written, directed and starring Agam Darshi. The film was shot on location in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. The film opens in Canada theatres in a limited release from March 11 in Vancouver, Toronto, Regina and Saskatoon.
The film also stars Kim Coates, Stephen Lobo, Huse Madhavji, Sandy Sidhu, Marvin Ishmael and Balinder Johal.
Why I Watched
I’ve been a fan of Agam Darshi since she played Kate Freelander on Sanctuary and have tried to follow her career since then. I had seen here and there that she had been working on a project but then really started seeing the hype around her directorial debut.
There is clearly a lot of buzz around Donkeyhead. The impressive and easily recognisable Canadian cast and its reception at film festivals. It also opened earlier this year in the US which helps keep it in the media machine. So I really wanted to take a look at it with a view to promoting it for its Canadian theatrical launch.
I received a screener of this film for review.
Donkeyhead packs a lot into a pretty respectable running time of 105 minutes. We start with a dutiful daughter Mona who is taking care of a terminally ill father. Though the first scene might give us a little more insight into the daughter. Though there is no doubt she is caring and very concerned about her ailing father there is something else there. Tension peaks out from time to time and we can feel the stress and exhaustion weighing on her. The moment when he says she is a good daughter after she leaves makes so much more sense as a choice by the end.
We spend most of our time with Mona and I like how the film shows us these two competing ideas of her. Is Mona just a screw up versus Mona was screwed up by her childhood. Something that really shook me with me was the realization that this was the family home. All the good and the bad of her childhood laid bare to the elements. It is easy to see why she took any chance to drown those memories out.
Is that house a prison? Perhaps not a prison but it felt like a yolk around her neck. I’m sure I am not the only person to have that feeling of losing maturity and confidence when you are around your parents as an adult. That scenario is presented here and is on another level, worsening when her siblings arrive.
Is a family really a family without some juicy secrets and conflict? Though I guessed the first “secret” the moment the family made their entrance to the family home. It is interesting to see how the four children pair up but still manage to bicker while doing so.
It seems clear that they all knew what Mona went through as children but it affected them differently. If Parm was the golden child it placed a great deal of pressure on him. It also left him in a place where he felt he couldn’t help or protect Mona. While it is clear that Mona bore the brunt of her father’s anger it affected
Up until now a lot of the first generation immigrant stories I’ve seen have been set in the US so it is interesting to have this set in Canada. As first generation myself in the UK different perspectives are welcome. The scene in the pub was important, as much as we define ourselves as a part of the country we grew up in that is not a universally accepted idea.
It is easy to point out the stark differences between the “successful” and Mona who is a struggling writer. They fit into our expectations of what the children of Asian immigrants should be. However that comes with its own problems as we see. It works for those of who wonder about what might have been had they got THAT job or done better at school.
Darshi was the original screenwriter behind Donkeyhead and has championed the project. The story is somewhat based on her own experiences. Her script was accepted into Whistler Film Festival’s Praxis Screenwriting Lab where she further developed the script.
As the lead and director she has a lot on her plate but she manages to deliver. Mona is pretty much in every scene so the workload must have been insane.
Donkeyhead is a tough watch probably just flying under a trigger warning level. However should you sit down you are in for an ultimately rewarding experience and a story about how everyone is capable of growth at any stage in their life.
An amazing cast contribute to a touching story while never sugarcoating what the immigrant experience. Donkeyhead shows the toll expectations can place on someone throughout their lifetime.