Rules of Engagement

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Review of 'Ae Fond Kiss', director Ken Loach

Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty's new film, Ae Fond Kiss, opens with a young Muslim woman, Tahara, doing a presentation to her school class. She talks about the increase in Islamophobia since 9/11 and brilliantly challenges the idea that all Muslims are the same. She talks about the many contradictions she faces in her own life and how they affect her. It's a good introduction to the film, as we see how a Muslim family in Glasgow, whose parents emigrated from Pakistan, deal with their own contradictions and problems.

The parents, Taria and Sadia, have faced racism and worked hard to provide for their family. They want what they see as 'the best' for their children, but the children have varying ideas about what 'the best' is.

Rukhsana, the eldest daughter, is happy with the marriage arranged for her, and is deeply in love with Amar, the man she is to marry. Tahara (brilliantly played by Shabana Bakhsh) wants to move away from the family home to study at university, against the wishes of her mum and dad.

But it is Casim, the middle child and only son, that Ae Fond Kiss revolves around. He is a successful DJ who dreams of opening his own club. His parents have arranged for him to be married to his cousin Jasmine, and are building a home for them both. Casim wants to keep everyone happy, and is prepared to go along with his parents' wishes - until he meets Roisin, a Catholic music teacher at his sister's school, who is smart, beautiful and independent.

Though he is due to marry Jasmine in only a few weeks, Casim asks Roisin out. She accepts, without knowing of his engagement, and soon they are seeing more and more of each other. Their relationship can't be out in the open, however, because of Casim's family. Roisin has to duck down in the car when they go past certain shops because people might see them together. It is only when they go for a break in Spain together that she learns the real reason for the subterfuge.

Casim's family find out, of course, and are devastated. Because Casim does not want to go ahead with the wedding to Jasmine, Rukhsana's own wedding cannot go ahead, as the family are badly regarded by other Muslims because of what Casim has done. The family resort to desperate measures to try and stop Casim and Roisin's relationship.

But just in case a white liberal audience was feeling too smug with itself about Casim's family's attitude to his relationship, Loach and Laverty remind us that intolerance is not restricted to one group of people. Roisin loses her job because her priest refuses to sign the form which allows her to teach in a Catholic school. The sinister and threatening priest explains very clearly that this is because she is going out with a Muslim man.

The two leads are fantastically played by Atta Yaqub and Eva Birthistle. Loach's practice of using non-professional actors really pays off in the scenes where Casim and Roisin are getting to know each other - there is a realism to the nervousness and hesitancy. And in the improvisational techniques Loach employs we hear the voices of Muslims who really do face racism in their everyday lives - not just in the film.

Ae Fond Kiss has been hailed as a 'mainstream Ken Loach film'. And while it is true that no one in this film is poverty-stricken or on heroin, and the sun seems to shine a lot more than in Loach's other films based in the west of Scotland, the themes that he addresses - racism, Islamophobia, the 'war on terror' and multiculturalism - are as interesting and relevant as ever.