erasing clouds

Overcoming Cross-Cultural Barriers in the Name of Love: on Ken Loach's Ae Fond Kiss

by anna battista

No matter how open-minded we often proclaim ourselves, stating that we like living in a multi-cultural environment and that we welcome people from different countries and different backgrounds to move to our own countries…prejudices will be still embedded in our minds, more often in our traditions or in our religion. Immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers are often seen by governments all around the world as aliens and enemies and end up living in their new countries in appalling conditions. In the States, thousands of Mexican immigrants are exploited and do the hardest jobs around from cleaners to strawberry pickers. A while back in Italy, the right wing government passed a draconian law on immigrants that stated the authorities had to take the fingerprints of all the immigrants who entered the country, a law that simply forgets that Italians were first-generation immigrants a long time ago. Great Britain has been at the centre of more debates on immigration because of its detention centres for asylum seekers and more recently for an appeal made by a Kurdish family held in a detention centre in Scotland for a year, then deported from the UK to Germany where they are facing being sent back to Turkey from where they had fled. And what about the fact that Muslims have been demonised all over the world after 11th September 2001?

In such a world where cross-cultural barriers and racial tensions are often at the core of debates, a film on the troubled love between a Muslim and a Catholic might certainly not be that new and might even be a bit boring and stereotypical. Yet Ae Fond Kiss (the movie title is taken from a poem by Scottish bard Robert Burns), the latest film by British director Ken Loach, is nothing but boring.

The film tells the story of the cross-cultural love between Casim (Atta Yaqub), a second-generation Pakistani from Glasgow who works as a DJ and dreams of owning his own club, and Roisin (Eva Birthistle), an Irish-Catholic music teacher in a Catholic school. Casim feels so involved with Roisin that he is ready to cancel his arranged marriage with his cousin Jasmine and to move out of the family house and in with Roisin. But his choice will bring shame on his family, in particular on his older sister (Ghizala Avan), who loses her engagement, and on his parents (Shamshad Akhtar and Ahmad Riaz) who worked hard all their lives to build up a respectable reputation inside their community. At the same time, Roisin will lose her job at the school where she is teaching because she is not married with the man she is living with, besides he is not a Catholic, but a Muslim.

Mostly shot in Glasgow's south side, Ae Fond Kiss also gives us an insight into the local Pakistani community and in a way ties in quite well with recent research carried out by the Incompatible Marriages Project that states that almost half of Scots Asians end up in unhappy marriages because of arranged weddings.

Two of the best scenes of the film (which contains unusually explicit sex scenes for a Loach film) are the one in which Casim's sister, Tahara (Shabana Bakhsh), claims in front of her school fellows at the Catholic school where she studies that she considers herself as Glaswegian and a Rangers supporter, and the one in which Casim's devastated father, Tariq, the devoted owner of a grocery shop who's been quite busy in the last months building an annex for his son and his future wife next to his own house, begs his son to come back home and marry his cousin.

The greatest achievement of the film is the fact that most of the actors in it are not professionals (Ahmad Riaz, Casim's father on the screen, is an accountant), but ordinary people who deliver excellent performances. For Ae Fond Kiss Loach has collaborated for the sixth time with screenwriter Paul Laverty. The film in a way concludes a trilogy of Glasgow films which started with My Name Is Joe (1998) and continued with Sweet Sixteen (2002).

Presented in Berlin at the Film Festival where it won the Ecumenical Jury award and the Prize of the Guild of German art house cinemas, Ae Fond Kiss will be released throughout the year in Europe, France will see it this summer and Italy later on at Christmas, but the film will be also premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Just make sure you don't miss it.

Issue 22, April 2004

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