|Cast:||Atta Yaqub, Eva Birthistle, Shamshad Akhtar, Ghizala Avan, Shabana Akhtar Bakhsh|
Forbidden love stories have been told endlessly throughout the ages with Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet enduring not for originality or probably even the high quality of the prose, but because Sir William found the proper balance between his willingness to tell the truth, ability to appeal to our individual sense of justice, and the audience’s innate desire for all possibilities to be open to them (even if in real life, often them alone). Everyone has some deep seeded prejudice - A Fond Kiss depicting the troubles caused by a relationship between Pakistani Muslim disk jockey Casim (Atta Yaqub) and Irish Catholic school teacher Roisin (Eva Birthistle) in present day Glasgow - but usually are willing to make at least one exception if they have a strong enough reason to. Even if indirectly motivated, such an impetus usually means themselves. Casim’s younger sister Tahara (Shabana Bakhsh) is in many ways the best character. She’s unwilling to shun her brother over any decision he’s made for his own happiness, partly because he’ll always be her brother, but also because she too plans to break from her family’s conservative tradition, in her case by pursuing a career in journalism.
Humans excelling at making trouble for themselves by refusing to accept the “ways of the world” is one of Ken Loach’s overriding themes. They are bent on liberating themselves from oppression or so poor and/or put upon they have no choice but to try, often a combination of both. A Fond Kiss’ characters are more financially stable than the exploited day laborers of films like Riff-Raff, The Navigators, and Bread and Roses, so there’s arguably far less urgency and more selfishness than even a film like Raining Stones where the poor but still proud man’s methods to just do one nice thing for his daughter - attain a new dress for her first communion - are inadvisable but certainly understandable. It’s not life and death like the perilous conditions the workers face in Riff-Raff; it’s a choice they believe they can afford to make but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less important to them. Roisin doesn’t want anyone to tell her how to live her life, while Casim has always been told; he wound up going along with his family’s (father’s) wishes in the end, even though he often (silently) objected.
The lover’s aren’t particularly well-matched and are largely in lust. Love is painful, frustrating, infuriating, as much anguish as ecstasy. Roisin probably will leave Casim when he’s outlived his usefulness like his father Tariq (Ahmad Riaz) asserts, but whether their relationship works or not, Casim realizes going ahead with the arranged marriage to his (far more attractive) cousin Jasmine (Sunna Mirza) means he’s ceded his ability to choose for himself. His options are not so much Roisin or Jasmine, but making his own decisions or accepting the security of the safe clearly mapped out path
Ken Loach doesn’t make willfully naive movies like Disney; his characters can only change their own world. Casim & Roisin know a wide variety of people don’t accept their races and religions mixing, but they’ll find out the extent of other people’s hateful intolerance after they think they’ve made their own decision. Then they get to make the real decision, which is to sacrifice most of what your life was to remain with your lover or return to what’s left of your old life and hope everyone will write off your “mistake” as youthful indiscretion, and you’ll find some way to forget.
Paul Laverty, who has written most of Loach’s films since1996’s Carla’s Song, isn’t out to milk the controversial topic for mock gags or prove how evolved western culture has become, as those who leave the philistines and assimilate with modern values invariably succeed in such pandering works. Loach & Laverty prefer exposing the complexities than condescending to their characters or patting their audience on the back. With the possible exception of the parish priest (Gerald Kelly), who only makes a new hole ripping cameo, they respect everyone’s viewpoint enough to give us their quagmire. They certainly don’t like everyone’s moral code, but allow them all to function by it, showing we’re all guided by sets of values that have at least as many weaknesses as strengths. The characters - including the “heroes” - are all very human, which includes being self-centered, narrow-minded, manipulative pricks. Many of the characters initially come off as stereotypes, but we come to understand the legitimacy of their dilemma, that whether what will be lost exceeds what is gained, there are both real and perceived costs to everyone’s actions that reach far beyond themselves. A Fond Kiss works where the typical barrier story fails due to expanding the tail to include the social (cultural, religious, etc.) impact on their entire circle rather than pretending the characters exist in a vacuum that various haters enter from time to time. Even if far more realistically portrayed and sexually charged than we’re used to, some of the story is obviously rather predictable. But rarely has it been told in a manner that rips through the skin to expose the oft rotten core.
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