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Sabah is 40, single, an immigrant from Syria living in Toronto with her family, responsible for her mother's well-being. Since her father's death, her brother Majid has been the family authority. His niece doesn't want him choosing her husband, his marriage is rocky, but he insists on tradition. Sabah meets Stephen at a city swimming pool; they're attracted to each other. Because he's not a Muslim, Sabah hides their friendship from her family. Where can this relationship go? Can this family sort out its tensions?Written by
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Prague) where Ruba is also sitting as a juror for the Competitive films, Commonwealth Film Festival (Manchester), Durban Film Festival (South Africa), Seattle International Film Festival (US), Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival (Brazil), Talk Cinema (Toronto International Film Festival) and Warsaw International Film Festival (Poland). See more »
Let's face it: SABAH, a joyous feature concerning a Toronto Muslim woman discovering romance for the first time is everything MY BIG FAT OVERRATED Greek WEDDING should have been: hilariously funny, deeply moving, intensely profound, and wonderfully romantic- and I say this as a thirty-something male who doesn't normally like romantic comedies.
Sabah (Arsinée Khanjian) has just turned 40. Bu she's feeling the pressure of having to take care of her elderly mother, all the while trying to live up to the dogmatic standards of her overly protective brother Majid (Jeff Seymour). Taking a break from tradition, Sabah decides to go for a dip in a nearby public swimming pool. There she (literally) bumps into Stephen (Shawn Doyle) a blue-eyed, barrel-chested Caucasian. Needless to say, the twain has met as Sabah conspires to see Stephen whenever she can behind her family's back. Meanwhile, Sabah's increasingly western niece Souhaire (Fadia Nadda, the director's sister) is trying to get out of an arranged marriage that the family's inflicting on her.
Needless to say, East meets West, as it does in other culture-clash comedies, such as DOUBLE HAPPINESS, BEND IT LIKE BECKMAN, and A TOUCH OF PINK. But it's the romantic sparks that fly between Khanjian and Doyle that make this film so engaging. After years of playing the cold fish in her husband's more esoteric films, Khanjian is so bubbly, passionate, sexy, and winsome in this role that it feels like she's actually enjoying herself on screen for the first time (here she should have won the Genie award for best actress as opposed to ARARAT). Moreso, the romance between her and Doyle is believable as well as passionate, complemented by an appropriately dry performance by Doyle as Sabah's ideal, if slightly naive, Canadian Mr. Right.
It also reminds one how phony MY BIG FAT Greek WEDDING actually was. There, Nia Vardalos's relationship was consummated way too quickly, resulting in a film where the happy ending begins in the middle of the story. But here, the romance is far more believable, because every baby step Sabah makes towards Stephen becomes in itself a step to self-discovery. And yet, it never becomes a case of a poor little Muslim girl being freed by some great white hope, but a woman discovering her own independence, finding romance on her own terms.
Also, whereas BIG FAT Greek WEDDING ended up little more than an episode of THE KING OF KENSINGTON, where anyone ethnic is either too loud, hairy or boisterous, Nadda eschews the stereotypes and is able to get laughs without derision or condescension. The tension in Sabah's family, especially between her and Majid (brilliantly played by Jeff Seymour) says volumes more about the complexities of Muslim culture than anything Hollywood could come up with. And it's a fun panacea to the likes of such media nabobs as Margaret Wente or Daniel Pipes who continually preach to us about the evils of middle-Eastern culture or multiculturalism. Mind you, they wouldn't know what to do with a film like SABAH. It just doesn't exist in their books.
Suffice it to say, Nadda's first feature is my feel good comedy for the year. It makes me proud to be Canadian. It makes me want to stand up for multiculturalism. It makes me feel good to be human.
(EXTRA NOTE: I actually chanced upon SABAH when it had its North American premiere last year at the NSI's Film Exchange Festival in Winnnipeg. I was in a bad mood at the time, but half hour into the film I was elated. Actually, the film, due to a projectionist's error, had to be rescheduled to be played again the following Saturday afternoon. Nadda, in the film's DVD commentary, even admitted this to being a painful moment. But just to let her know: I was so in love with the main character's story, I came for the following screening and even got to meet Khanjian herself (who was present at the screening), who was as every bit as charming as the character she played. So don't feel bad, Rubba. It was worth the extra wait. As a result, I convinced the local Winnipeg Cinematheque to theatrically screen it, paying money two more times just to see it. Will be buying the DVD soon. Promise.)
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