Cinema Signal:

The Migration and Settlement of Refugees in Britain
by Alice Bloch

Ae Fond Kiss
An album of 18th century song

. "A Fond Kiss" (aka, "Just a Kiss", "Ae Fond Kiss")

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 new realities.

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 conduct?

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 reaction.

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 of extremism.

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 of 2002).

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.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Comments from readers:
Very well written
I've seen the movie and agree with the review - I'll recommend this reviewer
Site Rating: 9

I thought this movie was great, and the two leads Atta Yaqub and Eva were amazing in the film.

                                                          ~~ Kim

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