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Ae Fond Kiss

September 16, 2018

Ae Fond Kiss (2004)
Director: Ken Loach
Actors: Atta Yaqub, Eva Birthistle, Ahmad Riaz

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Synopsis: Casim (Atta Yaqub), the only son to Pakistani immigrants in modern day Glasgow, falls in love with Irish teacher, Roisin (Eva Birthistle). Their relationship is threatened however, on both sides, by pressure and disapproval due to the various ethnic and religious divides.

Review: Ken Loach deviates ever so slightly from his usual socialist agenda by making religious, racial and cultural intolerance his main points of focus in Ae Fond Kiss – a film also notable for being a rare example in the Loach oeuvre where romance acts as the plot’s prime driving force.

As ever with mid-to-late-era Loach works, especially those scripted by Paul Laverty, there’s a slightly twee blend of whimsy and light social comedy thrown into the dramatic mix, and, in this film, it feels unnecessary and takes away a little from the integrity of the drama. Often used to generate pathos or empathy for Loach’s working class heroes, in Ae Fond Kiss the skits where Casim’s convenience store-owning father hooks up his newspaper placard to a generator so dogs peeing on it will be electrocuted, and when the earthy Glaswegian builders come comically unstuck while trying to carry Roisin’s piano to her upstairs apartment, cannot help but transmit as slightly tame.

This timidity is an offshoot of other elements of Loach’s naturalist predilections. Due to his aesthetic’s reverence for authenticity, he presumably had a restricted pool of talent to select from to honour his script’s heavy proportional need for Pakistani-Glaswegian actors. Although, at times, plucking local actors from obscurity can be an inspired touch, Atta Yaqub and Ahmad Riaz do struggle visibly with the sheer dramatic gravitas required from their significant parts. You can almost sense their reaching for the required emotion in certain scenes, and sometimes the loss of dramatic tension in their expressions when they’re in scenes but not actually delivering their lines is apparent. Compare, for example, with Eva Birthistle, who gives a much more controlled, consistent and measured performance.

Of course, there are lots of pros to Loach’s method. Is there a more purely empathic director in world cinema? The scene where the two Pakistani families converge to essentially shore up the marriage of Casim’s older sister, Rukhshana, to a doctor from an upwardly mobile family, felt particularly compelling, authentic and informative; a world away from the times where Loach’s tendency to slip into moments of didacticism (the ridiculously doctrinaire Catholic father chastising Roisin is a classic case in point) boils over.

By the end, it’s an unquestionably moving and humane film though, and Loach deserves credit for homing in on a necessary, but undertold, story of the conflicts and compromises that come with being a second generation immigrant citizen in contemporary Britain. And there are some nice ironic touches playing on the sectarian quagmire that is Glasgow too (in particular, the opening scene features a nice joke that Rangers fans will especially enjoy). (September 2018)


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