Do Elephants Pray?

Advertising hotshot Callum Cutter is bored with his job and the tedium of everyday life. Once day he meets a whimsical French woman called Malika who promises to show him the meaning of life. On an impromptu midweek trip to France she opens his eyes to how beautiful life can be when he lets go of his inhibitions. The catch is – he has to keep her identity a secret.

Do Elephants Pray? is a trippy film. Everything about it makes you feel like you’ve taken a pill stronger than the mushrooms that Malika keeps in her pocket. It starts off as a typical boy meets girl story, but descends into a strobe-light-y scene you might find on Trainspotting’s cutting room floor. You were half expecting poor Callum to end up face down in a clearing because Malika made off with his kidney.

Malika wants to go to a lake. She wants to get it on by this lake. Callum agrees and sacks off work for almost a week in his desperate attempts to bang a hot French woman by a lake. She makes him camp out in awful midge-ridden conditions. She makes him give up cigarettes and get mud on his Italian shoes; and Callum goes along with it because, dang it, HE WANTS THE GOODIES. You have to admire his determination.

The film makes out as though it is speaking to all of us on a spiritual level: that if we all ingest weird berry thingies and hallucinate for ten minutes our entire lives will fall into place in a similar way to Callum’s. Malika is the ultimate manic pixie dream girl, with doe eyes, lilting accent and bracken-like hair. She believes in fairies (or wants to want to believe in fairies) and reckons that elephants do pray because they have a lot to be thankful for. You get fully behind her and Callum hooking up, so much so you’re relieved when it does happen. For some reason though, Cal ends up grinning like a love-struck idiot at a decidedly NON-nymph-like woman called Emma from his tai chi class at the end. Did Malika simply sleep with Callum so he could get ready to have his way with Emma? Is he, like, some sort of shroomed-up super lover now? Alas, neither of these questions are answered.

Julie Dray is gorgeous; you can see why Callum is attracted to her so quickly and why he nearly breaks his neck trying to get her naked – but there’s a lot we’re not told about her. Why did she come to England? Where does she live? How does she support herself on a daily basis? Has she made other men eat potent plants and then ridden them like Seabiscuit next to a lake? Then again, in a similar way to Mary Poppins (who, as far as we know, wasn’t jacked up on mushrooms), she is more fascinating as a character precisely because we know next to nothing about her.

Jonnie Hurn is reminiscent of Colin Firth circa Bridget Jones in this film, equal parts uptight and charming. There’s clearly a deep sadness that runs through him (which Malika and her magic berries bring to forefront in a crazy dream sequence in which Callum declares his love for a tree) and Hurn portrays this in achingly subtle fashion. Marc Warren as the loutish Marlen adds punchy comic relief amid the haze and keeps the whole thing grounded.

Do Elephants Pray? isn’t your run-of-the-mill love story, but its memorable characters and Zen message makes it worth a watch. Only if you’ve not got anything else to do, mind.

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