If you’re only going to see one romcom this year, make it this one. Set within a Melbourne Muslim community, it tells the story of Ali (Osamah Sami) who is in love with the ‘wrong’ girl.
Co-written by Sami and based on his own life, the hapless Ali is the son of a revered Iraqi cleric Mahdi (Don Hany). The pressure on Ali to make his father and community proud leads him to tell a white lie about his university prospects. As is to be expected, the small lie escalates into a situation he couldn’t foresee and threatens his friendship with the smart and sanguine Diane (Helana Sawires).
Rather than just being a superficial tale of boy likes girl, Ali’s Wedding shows us the cultural diversity of Muslim communities and the universal problem of trying to live up to a parent’s expectations. We see the weaknesses and strengths of strong cultural traditions; from the difficulty Diane faces in being allowed to study to Mahdi’s pragmatic and reasoned wisdom.
Although we get some idea of gender divisions and limitations, this is essentially a story about being a Muslim man. What struck me about the female roles was the varied cultural, rather than religious, basis for many restrictions. There seems to be a minefield of traditions that affect everything from how you dress, who you can talk to and who you will marry. The tea drinking scene is a lovely example of this. Sawires strikes the right note as a woman aware that she is smarter than all the men around her but resigned to her lesser status.
The film is bright and comedic with Sami an amiable lead. The contrast of broad Australianness with immigrant culture is lovingly presented. The standout character for me, despite Hany’s wavering accent, is Mahdi who beautifully personifies the reasoned humanistic bridge between tradition and community.
If you think Islam is only about burqas and bombers, please see this movie (that joke is for you Osamah).
Have you seen this movie? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.