Director Ken Loach has proven himself to be a master story teller and, after
his "Sweet Sixteen," a powerful character drama in the darker aspects of
growing up amidst the realities of prison, drugs and street scamming, he
takes up a tale here about romance amidst clashing cultures. Imagine "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" in
which the ethnic family doesn't accept the non-Greek groom. When they did,
it was a boxoffice bonanza. This "fond kiss" won't fare so well.
But that's not the aim of the movie nor the requirement of the creative minds
behind it. What they've put together, unfortunate as far as the monetary
bottom line, is a far truer picture of the kind of ethnic clashes that
pervade society. It's been going on since steamboats brought immigrants out
of hardship to richer, more welcoming lands. What is new today is the
greater number of recipient countries, mostly western ones, that have become
the staging grounds for cultural upheaval and conceptual readjustment to the
After a somewhat confusing introduction in which young student Tahara Khan
(Shabana Bakhsh) sets off a campus melee with a fiery speech about her claim
of individuality. This brings in her big brother Casim (Atta Yaqub) who
helps her flee to safer quarters, namely the classroom of Irish, blond, sexy
music teacher Roisin Hanlon (Eva Birthistle), an energetically contrived meet
that soon has them dating.
The relationship flourishes, but across the divide of cultures. He, a first
generation Pakistani with a Muslim upbringing, modern values, and a family
that expects to appoint him a wife from within their tightly controlled,
Pakistan-derived community; and she a failed Catholic who long ago threw off
the shackles of church indoctrination. You might say, what are these kids
thinking in pursuing a mutual attraction? On the other hand, you might say
what was this family with reclusive instincts doing when they immigrated to a
western culture with the intention of preserving rigid formulations of
One of the themes here is the instruction to families that emmigrate to free
societies is that their children will inevitably adopt the customs of the
country and demolish the arbitrary constrictions of earlier generations.
Expect it! A new country is no place to cling to old moralities. You may
want to seal yourself hermetically from larger community but don't expect it
from your kids who go to school. The refusal to allow adaptation is
obstinate, unfair and, untimately, futile.
In taking it up as an idea for a movie, screenwriter Paul Laverty wrote from
much personal knowledge and experience as a human rights lawyer. Obviously
sensitive to the difficulties and tragedies that develop on both sides of the
issue, he very wisely avoids assuming an advocacy position for either one.
He and Loach take exquisite care to get into the experiential level of their
characters with no more trace of agenda or political statement-making than
their lovers who have personal happiness and fulfillment in mind.
But there is a wee bit of a problem. A love story's power derives
from the extent to which you feel for the lovers, both individually and as a
pair. You've got to want them to prevail against their circumstances which
can only come about as you see the union as just and desirable. You've got
to make the same connection each of them has done. The handsome Yaqub gave
me enough difficulties to regard him as miscast.
My guess is that the creative minds saw this male model as a "Romeo"
incarnation and, indeed, if it were a matter of his features alone, the
attraction Roisin feels would be understandable. But, when you consider the
slightness of his build and the wan level of his expressiveness, you want
to shake her and tell her she can do better. This is not a fruitful
Eva Birthisle, on the other hand, is a fascinating find, who makes her
character's lonely yet determined single woman with meaningful expectations
strong, natural and appealing. Her side of the coin is well engraved, and
it's my hope we'll see more of her from the film factory that is Glasgow.
Maybe with a little less Shirley Henderson? Kidding.
A couple of supporting players command considerable interest. Previously
mentioned Shabana Bakhsh stands out with vigorous assertiveness that is
compelling. She brought to mind the outstanding Parminder Nagra of "Bend It Like Beckham." Gerard
Kelly, with a single scene and a negative character is thoroughly convincing
as the equal of any self-righteous priest in any religion keeping his flock
in line. His energy in doing it provides an exemplary focus for condemnation
The title is from an 18th century song by Robert Burns ("Ae Fond Kiss"),
something that will be more familiar to and, perhaps, better understood as a
title for this film by, the British. It's also been shown under the title,
"Just a Kiss," (which should not be confused with the Kyra Sedgwick starrer
While I applaud the movie for all its intentions, its essentially well
balanced study of a pervasive problem and for a tasteful rendering of a love
affair (including a couple of hot moments of physical consummation) that
breeds tragedy, I find myself less engaged than I wanted to be. I was
offered a ring of movie matrimony, but it didn't fit all the way on my
finger. Still, I'd like everyone to try it on.
~~ Jules Brenner