Ali is stands out. He's one of the 500 Muslim soldiers in the British Armed Forces. Returning home from duty in Afghanistan unexpectedly, he once faces tensions from his antagonistic brother and community.
While this film somewhat dates itself with references to the Olympics and Jessica Ennis (rather than Ennis-Hill), it provides an important context as to where Britain was at the time, its attitude toward itself and its relationship with its communities of colour (particularly its Muslim communities). Even more intriguing is that the relationship between Muslim communities and the wider nation is viewed through the prism of Ali (a pre-Star Trek: Discovery Shazad Latif), who is serving in the British armed forces.
Returning home at short notice for his father’s funeral, Ali is a walking embodiment of conflict. Wearing a uniform that should be a symbol of pride, he is forced to wear it in the mosque complete with grains of earth from Afghanistan in his pocket. We are given a proxy for this cultural conflict in the form of Ali’s brother Umer (Ladhood’s Aqib Khan) whose anger and shame in his brother is palpable and barely veiled.
There are some on the nose metaphors used for Ali’s estrangement from his community including him having to wear ill-fitting shalwar kameez when he is pushed to change out of his uniform, but ultimately this is an intimate exploration of two parent-less children at the cusp of adulthood and at their most emotionally vulnerable, trying to figure out who they both are. Writer Ishy Din and co-writer and director Rachna Suri do a great job of transposing the internal conflict of Ali and Umer’s family into the wider struggle of Britain’s Muslim communities to marry their cultural heritage to having a sense of ownership in wider British society. This is particularly poignant at a period in history when Britain was a key player in the war on terror, an endeavour that all-to-often translated into hostility towards its Muslim citizens.
Din and Suri lean into the emotional and physical toll it takes to live in this constant dichotomy. What is particularly interesting about their approach to this is that while they do not avoid the visceral nature of conflict, they concentrate on the melancholic nature of never finding peace. Ali himself is literally at war, while Umer has to bear the community’s disapproval of his brother’s actions. Despite this, the two brothers are set on a journey to understand the pain of the other, realising that there is far more to their experiences (good and bad) than they initially realise.
Suri collaborates brilliantly with DoP Dirk Nel as they capture striking images that encapsulate the emotional journey of Ali and Umer in granular detail, from the Union Jack on Ali’s shoulder to the Afghan sands in his pocket to the dew drops on the grass in the cemetery where their father is laid to rest. The visual aesthetic in combination with guarded yet formidable performances from Shazad Ali and Aqib Khan enables this film to provide a powerful and lasting experience.
Studio: Peek Films | Year: 2013 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 14 Mins | Suitability: Mature
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