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Ae Fond Kiss

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Ken Loach’s Ae Fond Kiss is a superb drama about the tensions and divisions that surround the issue of inter-racial love.

Cassim (Atta Yaqub) is a young entrepreneur living in Glasgow, Scotland, whose parents emigrated from India. He’s engaged to a young Muslim woman from Pakistan, who he has never met, and his father is building an extension to the family home for the couple. Then he meets Roisin (Eva Birthistle), a pretty divorced Irish Catholic teacher, and they both fall in love–with disastrous results for Cassim’s family.

It’s a tough challenge for any writer to approach this subject without falling into the trap of criticising Muslim culture. Paul Laverty does an astonishing job of showing the deep bonds of love and affection in Cassim’s family, and how his love for a white girl threatens to destroy it. Cassim’s seasawing love for Roisin causes her huge anxieties, and, as a white woman, she finds his loyalty to this family baffling. It’s not until she loses her job at the Catholic school because the local priest disapproves of her living with a Muslim that Roisin gets some inkling of the problems the relationship will bring to her as well.

This is a powerful film because it handles touchy subjects in a skilful and sensitive manner. All the elements in the film–the dialogue, the acting, the direction, and even the sex scenes–are naturalistic and realistic. That’s a tough trick to carry off in a movie, and speaks of dedication, experience and excellent craftsmanship.

What the film ultimately says is that love is not enough for a relationship to endure if it crosses cultural and racial divides. It’s hard work; the couple must be willing to face major obstacles, and to withstand the rifts in their families, for that love. And it points to how easy the alternative is: to love (or to settle for) someone of your own race or religion.

Loach and Laverty don’t sugar the pill, but the film does end on a somewhat optimistic note. This is a gem of a film that looks honestly at the different, and often clashing, expectations of cultures, and wonders if there is a way to mediate them.

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About Maura McHugh