"Sabah" by Ruba Nadda

Unveiling a Passion for Life

Love has the ability to transcend cultural barriers. This is the message of the highly amusing, touching, and romantic film "Sabah" by Syrian-Canadian director Ruba Nadda. A review by Fahimeh Farsaie

Sabah by Ruba Nadda
Arsinée Khanjian stars as Sabah, a woman who falls in love and finds herself simultaneously living in two cultures

​​When 40-year-old Sabah (Arsinée Khanjian) falls in love with an attractive nice Canadian man, her bland life is about to be transformed into a colorful and risky adventure.

It's love at first sight. But their newfound romance faces considerable obstacles. Sabah's lover is a Christian man; she is a traditional Muslim woman, wearing a headscarf. And in keeping with the conventional formula used in other "immigrant genre" films, the storyline includes a strict brother, Majid (Jeff Seymour), who closely follows her every move.

But "Sabah" is not your typical immigrant film. True, Majid casts his head-over-heels-in-love sister out of the family, but there is no violence. Director Ruba Nadda avoids stereotypes, adopting a gentle pace to reveal the "inner world" of immigrants in Toronto, portraying family ties along with love and affection in surroundings that are imbued with Middle Eastern cultural traditions.

The first part of the film tends to be long-winded, however, as our heroine tells her boyfriend about diverse aspects of Arab customs. Slowly, and somewhat tentatively, the two lovers move closer – a long process that reflects the time it takes to adjust to another culture.

Lulled by such a leisurely pace, viewers could almost miss out on the highlight of the story, the couple's first big kiss; yet thanks to its historic location, on the corner of Front and Jarvis, the scene just manages to avoid going unnoticed.

Victim of outdated traditions

Soon enough, there are signs that a resolution to the conflict is imminent, as the once unyielding brother Majid starts to cry during a heated discussion with his sister. Majid sheds tears, not out of shame or grief, but out of self-pity. Forced to protect the family's honor, he sees himself as a victim of totally outdated traditions that are out of step with a liberal society.

Following her earlier, rather gloomy love stories, in "Sabah", 32-year-old filmmaker Ruba Nadda reveals aspects of Arab culture that are far removed from headline-grabbing issues like terrorism, abuse and torture.

She has also consciously avoided focusing on the effects of September 11th on Islamic-Arab communities – a topic that has been dealt with in many other immigrant films over the past few years, for example, "Resultant Damages" by Samir Nasr, "Yasmin" by Kenny Glenaan, and "Being Osama", by Canadian resident and Lebanese filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour, a film that received the Best Documentary Award at the Canadian National Youth Film Festival.

"There is probably this expectation that an Arab woman filmmaker should address these issues, and it's a common expectation even among people who sympathize with Arabs in North America and know their problems.

In a certain sense, the story of an Arab who is constantly subjected to suspicions of terrorism has itself become a cliché. I think we need to reject the idea that 9/11 defines what it means to be an Arab in North America," explains director Ruba Nadda in an interview.

In order to convey a comprehensive image of an "Arab woman", Nadda tells about hopes and convictions, a tale of longing and love. Well-known actress Arsinée Khanjian ("Ararat", "Where the Truth Lies", both by Atom Egoyan) does a very credible and capable job of portraying an Arab woman who unveils a passion for life while retaining the values of her own cultural background – creating an environment where love is possible.

Fahimeh Farsaie

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German: Paul Cohen

Sabah, Director Ruba Nadda, Canada 2005, 90 minutes
Actors: Arsinée Khanjian, Jeff Seymour, Shawn Doyle

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