Young Pakistani 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) for a rescue from the milling crowd, helping her flee to safer quarters. They take refuge in the classroom of Irish, blond, sexy music teacher Roisin Hanlon (Eva Birthistle). Talk about contrived, but Loach likes to set up his boy-girl meets in an action context.
A relationship develops between the pair, but across a divide. He's a first generation Pakistani with a Muslim upbringing, aspirations of becoming a DJ and opening a club, and a family that expects to appoint him a wife from within their tightly controlled family. She's a failed Catholic who long ago threw off the shackles of church indoctrination even though she's teaching in a Catholic high school. She's also --horrors! -- divorced. You might ask what these kids are thinking in pursuing an attraction? On the other hand, you might say to the family: What were you thinking when you emigrated to a melting pot western culture?
One of the themes here is that second-generation children will be more likely to adopt the freedoms of the new country while rejecting the cast-in-stone rules of their parents' old one. When the issue is over natural attraction vs. emotionless arranged marriage, when it becomes a choice between following your heart over an obstinate demand for community honor, disaster looms. It brings Casim's family to emotional blackmail, guilt trips, and petty tyranny.
Screenwriter Paul Laverty writes 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 astutely avoids an advocacy position. He and Loach take care to remain on the experiential level of their characters who have personal happiness and fulfillment in mind, not political statement-making. But that doesn't mean their film doesn't have that effect.
But as to the dramatic components of the film, there is a wee bit of a problem and it's in the casting. 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 obstacles, which can only come if you see the union as just and desirable. But, the handsome Yaqub with his slight build and wan level of expressiveness made me want to shake his beloved and convince her she can do better. This is not a fruitful reaction. I wasn't in his corner. 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 ensure a better connection.
Eva Birthisle, on the other hand, is a fascinating find, making her character's lonely yet determined single woman strong, natural and appealing. Her side of the bi-cultural relationship strikes all the right emotional notes to draw us to her side, and it's my hope we'll see more of this Dublin-born lady from the film factory that is Glasgow. Maybe with a little less Shirley Henderson? Kidding.
A couple of supporting players command considerable interest. Young Shabana Bakhsh stands out with a vigorous assertiveness that is compelling. She brings to mind the saucy Parminder Nagra of Bend It Like Beckham. Gerard Kelly, with a single scene and a negative character is smashing as the self-righteous priest keeping his flock in line. His pulpit power and conviction is the equal of Burt Lancaster's Elmer Gantry and is an energizing study in 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 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, I longed to be more engaged. I was offered a ring of movie matrimony, but it was less than a perfect fit. Still, it's worth trying on, if only for a moment.
Aka Just a Kiss, Ae Fond Kiss...
Production compaines: Scottish Screen
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Director: Ken Loach
Producer: Rebecca O'Brien
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty
Starring: Atta Yaqub as Casim Khan, Eva Birthistle as Roisin Hanlon, Shamshad Akhtar as Sadia Khan, Ghizala Avan as Rukhsana Khan, Shabana Akhtar Bakhsh as Tahara Khan, Ahmad Riaz as Tariq Khan, Shy Ramsan as Hamid, Gerard Kelly as Parish Priest, Gary Lewis as Danny, David McKay as Wee Roddie, Raymond Mearns as Big Roddie, Emma Friel as Annie, Karen Fraser as Elsie