Ken Loach's "Ae Fond Kiss"

A Love Story between Two Cultures

Ken Loach's latest film deals with a love story between a Catholic Irish woman and a Muslim Pakistani – and looks at the balancing act between love and family loyalty. Ernst Kramer discusses the film.

​​Casim and Roisin, a perfect Glasgow couple: it was love at first sight between the young, dynamic DJ and the self-aware, mature music teacher.

But such a perfect love would not be nearly as attractive if everything ran smoothly. Roisin is Catholic Irish, and Casim a Pakistani of the Muslim faith.

Casim's parents want him to marry someone else: his cousin Jasmin whom he has not even met. This is what his parents have decided, and Casim, their only son, has so far accepted their decision.

Family test

At first Casim does not mention his love for Roisin. He is afraid that it will destroy the tradition that holds his family together and secures their status in the Pakistani community in Glasgow.

Instead he is in danger of either breaking up his family or losing his girlfriend. And so Casim ignores the heeding of his heart, despite his happiness in love, until he finally breaks up with Roisin, who naturally can't believe what is happening.

But when Casim witnesses how his younger sister Tahara bravely faces up to her congenial but strict father, he finally gathers the courage to call off the arranged wedding and leave his parents' house.

Thanks to Tahara, he and Roisin get back together. But their happiness faces yet another hard test, for not only his parents have something against his relationship to a white goree. Roisin is also put under pressure because of her love for Casim.

Living with two cultures

Pakistanis and Indians, in whose countries the English crown ruled for almost 200 years, make up the largest group of immigrants in Great Britain. In 1947, after the British divided the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan, the colonial power granted the two countries their independence.

The British calculated that the ethnic and religious inhomogeneity of this region would hinder the emergence of another strong player in international politics. A mass flight of Hindis and Sikhs to India and of Muslims to Pakistan was the result. Thousands died, scores of the dispelled fled to the safe shores of Great Britain.

The dividing of the Indian subcontinent and its repercussions are told in the Pakistani film Silent Waters. While the parent generation preserved its Islamic tradition in response to the flight, misery, and the hostilities they encountered in their new country, young Pakistanis, often born in the United Kingdom, are more open to western lifestyles.

This is the case in Ae Fond Kiss with Casim and Tahara. Ken Loach, an old master of British social dramas, creates impressive and oppressive scenes from this explosive family constellation: for instance, when the family Khan is sitting at the dinner table in the kitchen and Casim and his mother watch helplessly as Tahara, in a mixture of anger and despair, takes on her stubborn father who refuses to let her leave her parents' home in order to study in Edinburgh.

Loach takes care to keep his narrative from becoming too depressive by showing the joys and advantages of family life.

Scenes such as those in which the grumpy father Tariq, together with his Scottish neighbor, measures the garden for an annex to their house and in the general merriment forgets the mother's flower beds. And Casim shows his brotherly love by supporting his sister Tahara at school against the discriminating remarks of other pupils.

If you don't fight, you don't live

This openness toward the pros and cons of different lifestyles animates the film and makes the story believable. The socialist Loach, whose films are typically set in a working-class milieu, has been often praised in his nearly forty-year career as a filmmaker for his skillful circumnavigation around the precipices of cheap propaganda.

Loach is much too clever to portray the so-called little people as the good guys of modern society. He is just as careful to avoid depicting a Pakistani family as the better counterpart to the allegedly decadent British family. Instead his characters often stand in their own way in their attempts to create a better life for themselves.

In Loach's films wage laborers fight capital and strikers fight strike breakers in the film Bread and Roses, 2000), the unemployed fight against their alcoholism (My Name Is Joe, 1998), and moderate socialists fight Stalinists in the civil war drama Land and Freedom (1995).

What is unique about Loach is that the personal fight is always meaningful. Loach's film are never filled with resignation. In most cases, they show not only a way out, but also deliver the message that it is worth taking a stance, even if you are drowning.

And so a pleasant, heroic mist wafts over Casim and Roisin in their fight for their love. There is no doubt that they love each other.

Their different cultural heritage is not a problem for them as it is for the others. Instead they experience it as an enrichment: in their excited conversations, for instance, they discover similarities between Islam and Christianity. On the other hand, the film hardly deals with the reality that the different backgrounds of two people can also lead to problems and misunderstandings.

A poignant love drama

Instead Ken Loach shows again and again that Casim and Roisin must protect themselves and their love from external opposition and thereby resorts to a sensual and admiring portrayal of their young love.

Loach has demonstrated his talent for such portrayals in other films. Nevertheless this time he seems obsessed with the idea of portraying love and sex twice as good as other filmmakers in order to prove that it can work in a socially engaged film.

One enjoys watching the first tender kisses. Then they kiss some more, then they sleep with each other. And then they sleep with each again. And then they kiss some more. And eventually one starts wishing for some mischief to come along to put a damper on their love, which of course happens. Thus Ae Fond Kiss is very successful as a social drama, but a little too sweet as a love story. Of course a powerful love is what people need to transcend their great cultural barriers.

Ernst Kramer

© Fluter.de 2004

Translation from German: Nancy Joyce

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