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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Ae Fond Kiss" manages to find appealing freshness in a tale probably
older than "Romeo and Juliet."
There have been many, many films that have dealt with the conflicts between young lovers from different ethnic or racial backgrounds and there's strengths and weaknesses in how director Ken Loach and his frequent collaborator writer Paul Laverty avoided some clichés while stridently emphasizing some others.
The fresh POV is that the young Glaswegian Muslim/Catholic couple is not naive teenagers experiencing love for the first time, conflating The Other with sexual discovery, but experienced 20-somethings who know perfectly well about the vagaries of relationships. He even expresses surprise that she had entered into her first marriage at the young age of 19.
In addition, this is the first such genre film I can think of where the one in the couple feeling the pull of traditional responsibilities is the guy; usually it's the girl who is drawn to assimilate by a handsome charmer. The gender switch provides an interesting dynamic that effectively shows how ethnic and racial tensions add to the simple interactions or the usual up and down strains that any new relationship goes through. For example, his seductive reaching out to her on an early date emphasizes his fascination with her wavy blonde hair.
While their relationship is allowed to grow gradually out of a mutual interest in music, they develop a frankly, deliciously sexual relationship, whereas most films in the genre gauzily avoid such aspects of interracial romance, going beyond "Mississippi Marsala." They verbally express their feelings for each other with gentle sparring use of epithets -- this is also the first film in the genre I can think of where despite everything they go through they do not declare "I love you."
Each has complexities and pressures in their personal lives that the relationship complicates. Some effort is made to present the Muslim family's viewpoint as coming out of a protective reflex against experienced bigotry from the violence of the Indian partition on. She points out she can't consider his parents as individuals who are other than bigots if he never lets her meet them.
While a younger sister is a conventional rebel (it's a risible cliché of this genre that she wants to be a writer), the older sister has accommodated herself to her cultural requirements in a way to be content in the contemporary world, but this leads her to be desperately pro-active against the couple.
Poignantly, communication across the divide is almost not possible, that slim reed called love may not conquer all, and there is genuine suspense as they split and reunite and split under the stress.
The lead actors are enormously appealing and believable, so we have great compassion for them. George Fenton's music helps to maintain the romantic atmosphere.
On the strident side, their meeting cute is by her breaking up a fight between his sister and racial taunters. The bigotry angle is hammered home culturally incongruously by displays of the notorious lynching postcards with "Strange Fruit" playing in the background.
The Scottish brogues are mostly comprehensible to American ears, though the specifics of some jocular exchanges are lost.
The cinematography well conveys gritty Glasgow.
British filmmaker Ken Loach is a rare commodity. The man should be
revered. He consistently makes superb films, movies that comment on
important social issues. And he's never been tempted to go Hollywood.
He's appreciated in Europe, but he should be in the United States, too. I consider Loach and fellow Briton Mike Leigh to be the most socially conscious filmmakers working today. Just look at some of Loach's remarkable films - "Kes" (1969), "Riff-Raff" (1990), "Hidden Agenda" (1990), "Raining Stones" (1993), "Ladybird Ladybird" (1994), "Carla's Song" (1996) and "My Name is Joe" (1998). They may not all be masterworks, but they're more emotionally satisfying, funny and poignant than most Hollywood films.
It's a shame Hollywood doesn't have an equivalent to Loach or Leigh. We have the marvelous John Sayles, but he's alone and he, too, doesn't work in the Hollywood system.
In "A Fond Kiss," Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty tackle the age-old conflict of star-crossed lovers. In this case, it's Casim Khan (Atta Yaqub), a second-generation Pakistani immigrant, and Irishwoman Roisin Hanlon (Eva Birthistle) in Glasgow, Scotland. Casim's a DJ with lofty plans to open his own club; Roisin's a music teacher at the Catholic school attended by Casim's sister, Tahara (Shabana Bakhsh). As expected, Casim's family made plans for him to marry a cousin. And he's caught between obligations to his family and his love for Roisin.
This might seem familiar. And it is. But what Loach and Laverty do is elevate their story to another level, stripping off any artifice and making it as sincere, human and believable as possible. Biracial couples, especially, will understand and appreciate the genuine storytelling. The movie's final scene is beautifully written and acted.
There's something deeply honest about Yaqub and Brithistle's performances. These aren't Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan pretending to be normal people. There's nothing artificially cute or movie-like about Casim and Roisin's romance and relationship. These are two people extremely comfortable with each other. Their conversations are frank; their problems are real; their anguish and joy ring completely true. Even their lovemaking has nothing artificial about it.
Yaqub wasn't a professional actor when Loach cast him. So Yaqub brings certain rawness to his role that's very welcome. But that also exposes his shortcomings. There are moments that require a bit more emotion from Yaqub, scenes that would play better if he were stronger. But he gets ample support from Birthistle. This really is her movie.
From the first moment we see her, Birthistle captivates us. Her reactions to everything that happens to her - from ecstasy with Casim to pain with his sister - there isn't one thing false about her performance. It's so easy for us to sympathize and empathize with her because she draws us in with a wonderfully subtle, nuanced and open performance.
There's also a superb cameo from Gerard Kelly as a sanctimonious priest.
We rarely get to see films such as "A Fond Kiss" in the U.S. Films that bravely tackle social issues, expose our prejudices and force us to think and understand other people and cultures. Loach's oeuvre includes one movie made in the U.S. - "Bread and Roses" (2000). He hasn't returned to make another one. Pity. Just imagine how much richer the American film industry would be if it had filmmakers of Loach's integrity and caliber.
The Mother. I shall devote most of this post just talking about her.
Nondescript during her first few appearances, she fits the bill of a stereotypical Asian immigrant mom. And thats about it. But to assume just that will also mean that we have not seen enough Ken Loach movies. For it takes but one stolen moment of familial conflict for the woman to sense her troubled son's pain. And like balm over raw open wounds, she unleashes her outbursts of maternal affection. Its easy to understand why the son breaks down there and then. I would too. A mother's intuition is uncanny. To see it approximated so closely on screen, this movie demands my gratitude.
I love the other characters in this great film too - the father, the son's two very different sisters, his best friend and even the white "outsider" love interest. Each character is so well defined, their inter-relationship dynamics so genuine and heartfelt, they deserve my devoting paragraphs each respectively just to shower my compliments. But I shan't do that. I will only be repeating myself.
Hence, this much I shall say; there's something in a Ken Loach film which gets to me each and everytime - the characters. More specifically, I am floored by their measures of realness. They are individuals guided by distinct codes of conduct. Their values explain their actions and exposes their strengths and frailties. Ultimately, these "real" people earn my empathy. There are no saints or sinners in Ken Loach's film universe. Instead, I see human beings relating with each other simply, truly, sometimes madly, but always deeply.
Ae Fond Kiss is one of the best films of the year. Check it.
My wife and I rented this movie because we are so fascinated by films
that explore the various issues involved in inter-racial relationships.
I am Chinese, and my wife Indian, and it was quite a tumultuous journey
from the day we met to the day that we exchanged our wedding vows.
Seeing movies like this always brings us a strong feeling of nostalgia.
A Fond Kiss is the love story between Casim, a young Pakistani man, and Roisin, a young Catholic woman, with the backdrop being modern day Scotland. Much of the plot revolve around the Casim's family dynamics, which is a rather modern Muslim household. We are not given much about Roisin's family, but the director gives us a rather bitter depiction of fundamental Catholic dogma. Despite the predictable problems that arise, the story is accompanied by a strong performance from the entire cast, and the use of common Hollywood love-story gimmicks are refreshingly absent from the plot.
I must note that the performance by Casim's father was especially moving for me; you want to judge him quickly for his hypocrisy and bigotry, but soon feel for his predicament. The antagonism he has for "love" marriages arise from his responsibility to love and protect his family, and his tribulations in the past have made him weary of foreigners. I am reminded of the problems I have had with my father-in-law; for the longest time I hated him so much, but only now I see that he's one of the most caring and loving individuals I have ever known, and any problems he gave me was simply his way of testing my devotion to what matters most to him, his daughter and family.
The ending scenes were also beautifully woven together. There are no ridiculous chase scenes or over-exaggerated dialogues. The people who ultimately decide their fates are themselves. It is Casim and Roisin who must determine what their destinies are, and this non-fatalistic scenario is often the case in real life. I know, from my culture as well as my wife's, that in many cases, marriages are arranged, and sometimes forced. Though I try not to make any judgements, I am glad that I live in a society where I still get to choose my partner in life.
Ae Fond Kiss is Ken Loach's latest movie. It's a movie with that
classic basic premise: a woman and a man from different cultures fall
in love. Will their love survive what other people think and do? It's a
premise we've seen a million times before. But that doesn't make Ae
Fond Kiss a bad movie. No, quite the opposite: I think it's wonderful.
First of all, I think the script is amazing. While Casim's family probably is the biggest obstacle for the young couple to overcome, this is by no means a movie which portrays only the Moslems as the bad guys. Roisin's Catholic society isn't much better. This is one of the reasons why the movie is so engaging.
Another reason why I really liked this film is the fantastic performances by all the actors. Eva Birthistle is certainly the standout, but it would be unfair to name any other actor before the others. In short, it's a great cast.
Ae Fond Kiss is a well-played, sweet and very engaging movie. I liked it a lot. It's even a bit better than Loach's Sweet Sixteen. (8/10)
"Ae Fond Kiss" embodies all and more that we are used to from director,Ken Loach. The film is entertaining and moving from start to finish and makes interesting and true social comment about the way we live. Loach approaches the subjects of religion, race, national identity and cultural differences in a way that is sensitive, gritty and real to the audience. "Ae Fond Kiss" does not shy away from the truth and attempts to deal with issues in a far more serious and believable way than such films as "Bend it Like Beckham". An enjoyable film, and one which should gain huge attention and recognition from the U.S. However, we shouldn't hold our breath as we know.
I saw this at the Edinburgh Film Festival last night. I'm not a natural
fan of Loach's work, although grew a little warmer to it after Sweet
What he's made here though is a believable, warming love-story. Aside from 'location-spotting' the Glasgow geography, there was a feeling throughout the film that's difficult to pin down (or articulate!); just a kind of "yeah, that's right, these people and these feelings are real".
Lead-wise, a great line up, Atta Yaqub plays a quiet Casim, and Eva Birthistle a brilliant but natural Roisin - there's nothing that stops you believing that this is a couple in love.
As for the rest of them - some excellent characters and some good acting. One criticism is Loach's practice of using non-actors - sometimes this leads to an almost TOO natural delivery of the script. The strength of the whole cast comes through though, and there's certainly no feeling of any tokenism or stereotype characters.
One actor who doesn't appear to have had much notice in any write-ups I've seen is Shabana Bakhsh, who plays Tahara Khan, Casim's youngest sister. She's fantastic. Again, falls a little foul of sometimes sounding overly natural... but what a star though. She was very believable as the rebellious, starting to get politically active, younger sister.
All-in-all, a great film, worth seeing. I think it's out on general release sometime in the early autumn - well worth the ticket.
I was taken to this film sort of against my will, I wanted to see
something else, and from the first five minutes I knew I was watching
something special. Not to give anything away, but this film has a
political side that is not often seen in films in the states, but it's
not 'heavy handed' about it at all- the political comes out of the
family situations. The actors are all wonderful, particularly the woman
lead, and I completely believed every situation they were in. The music
was unobtrusive and the camera work felt more like a documentary than a
But overall I was left with a feeling of joy that there are still films that try to say something, that aren't based on comic books, and that have real concerns that people struggle with. Bravo to Ken Loach and co.
Every romance film should be this way; the lovers bickering, throwing
each other out of the apartment, taking shots at each other's families
and generally not getting along in between periods of being so
intensely in love that they forget everything but each other.
Sadly, most romance movies aren't like this at all.
Ae Fond Kiss, or Just a Kiss, is a gritty account of two blue-collar workers in love, one a Scottish girl and the other a product of an immigrant Pakistani family, all taking place in the not so glamorous city of Glasgow during the late 20th century. The Scottish girl is a music teacher at a Catholic school and meets the Pakistani boy when her guitar is broken during a racial incident. So far it follows much of the standard boy-meets-girl line. The romance takes off, they find they are getting along swell, and then the price comes due.
You can see it coming, the Muslim Pakistani family coming down on the boy for not going along with his arranged marriage, and him going on the outs with his family. But then the price comes due for his Scottish girlfriend, too, and that was a little harder to call. It comes down to both of them having to pay a price for their love, and the various tests of their willingness to do so. Even at the end, it was a bit uncertain, as such a romance would probably be. You can almost see them trying to decide if this is worth the trouble they are going through, or just a lust thing they will eventually get over.
The characters are likable, even when you don't agree with them. The father who doesn't want his son going out with a Catholic girl is not only likable, you can even see his point of view and the quandary he is in. The story line is believable, especially today, and the sub plots were intriguing.
I'm not normally much for romance films, unless there are a lot of naked chicks wobbling around, or the popcorn is really good, but I liked this movie quite a bit. Something in it appeals to even a die hard chick flick hater like me. It would make an excellent date movie, giving you something to discuss while providing that all important element of romance that leads to your hand sliding off the gear shift and squeezing her thigh while you make some pseudo-intellectual point about one of the various issues in the film.
There is no feel-good Hollywood ending here, it just sort of fades out, leaving you wondering what would happen with such a couple. Did they stay together? Did the boy reconcile with his family? But you don't feel cheated out of an ending, rather you are forced to confront how you, the viewer, would deal with the same or similar issues.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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 achieved that.
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw noted "an unfashionable streak of optimism" running thorough 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 film-making 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 a shame that due to limited release it won't be seen by more of the US public.
Shown at the Quad Cinema in New York in early December 2004.
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