Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2005 12:55 pm 
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Star-crossed lovers with authentic accents

Ken Loach's very touching, realistic A Fond Kiss (actually "Ae Fond Kiss"; it's a phrase from a Robert Burns poem) is a Glasgow star-crossed lovers story. A blonde lady called Roisin (Eva Birthistle) teaches music in a state-supported Catholic school. She and Casim (Atta Yaqub) meet and fall in love. Casim grew up in Glasgow but has Pakistani Moslem parents. He breaks out of an arranged marriage and lives with Roisin. For living out of wedlock Roisin's moved out of the Catholic school, where she's a favorite of students, before end of term. Casim's family uses every wile to lure him back to the arranged marriage, but he and Roisin stay together and say a gently ironic pledge of loyalty to each other. They know (and we know) it's not going to be easy.

A little rough-hewn like its Glasgow environment, A Fond Kiss is simple and sincere. The principles are non-actors. In the wake of Mike Leigh's polished little gem, Vera Drake, we're aware of the rawness of this effort, but it has a freshness and emotional validity Leigh's techniques sometimes lose. There's a surprising amount of flesh in Casim's and Roisin's encounters: Loach may be socially conscious, but he isn't averse to being sexy. There's not the wit and the sophistication of the 1985 Frears/Kureishi collaboration My Beautiful Laundrette, which still stands as perhaps the classic British cross-cultural love story and also one of the most novelistically complex films in English of the past two decades.

Maybe A Fond Kiss has its emotional impact for just that reason: it sticks firmly to the saga of Casim and Roisin: all external events and characters are seen exclusively in relation to them, though the emotional pain felt by Casim's parents at "losing" their son is vividly shown. Laundrette shone at treating a gay love story within the context of other, straight, experiences, such as the world weary gloom of Omar's Papa, and the burgeoning capitalism of other relations. Loach's film has a thicker patina of authenticity: the Glaswegian accents are sometimes near-impenetrable and you can follow better when the Pakistanis are talking in Urdu with subtitles. It's an essential point that Casim's English is as Glaswegian as Roisin's, and a slicker actor couldn't have acheived that.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw noted "an unfashionable streak of optimism" running through A Fond Kiss while Philip French spoke of "an unusually romantic and non-political mode." True, on both counts, but "non-political" doesn't mean the social aspects of the situation aren't deftly and completely outlined for us. A BBC critic called Kiss "believable, intelligent filmmaking but quibbled that "considering the makers' pedigree, Ae Fond Kiss... is more of a peck than a smacker." US critics have given the film a fair rating, noting its cultural balance, but with reservations about the technical competence of the piece. All this is a bit unfair, because roughness has its virtues as polish has its faults. This is one of Loach's sunniest, most moving efforts; it's also one of the year's most emotionally real film experiences. It's a shame that due to limited release it won't be seen in theaters by more of the US public. Watch for it on dvd.

(Shown at Quad Cinema in New York in late November and early December 2004.)

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