TL;DR – A good reminder that we are all united as one because we all do stupid, stupid, stupid, things for love
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
I’ve been sitting here looking at my screen on and off for the last hour wondering how to start this review. This is such an important film, a real water shed moment for Australian cinema, but how do you properly articulate that without sounding overbearing. To add to this, I am a white Australian with not a lot of experience with some of the cultural and religious iconography, this means that I am desperately trying not to accidentally say something truly stupid. So I hope you will excuse the lack of coherence and come with me as we jump into the world of Ali’s Wedding.
So to set the scene, we open with Ali (Osamah Sami) flying through the air after his tractor crashed into a police car … it’s a long story. Thus the movie asks the question, can a lie be a righteous or noble thing? Lying is wrong, but what if it can save your life or the lives of others, or what if it is to cover for a deep embarrassment, and when will it all blow up in your face? Well, this is the dilemma that we find as we jump back to the start of the story and start to learn about the life of this family. Ali’s family had to escape Iraq because Saddam Husain’s Baathist party was after his father Mehdi (Don Hany), when in Iran they never felt accepted but eventually they made their way to Australia. Ali has spent the last year studying hoping to do well enough to be accepted into the medical program at Melbourne University. Ali really wants to make his parents Mahdi and Zahra (Frances Duca) proud, and feels a lot of pressure being the ‘Son of the Cleric’, which may have made him do the unthinkable, lie, and what a whopper it was.
One of the things I really loved about Ali’s Wedding is how they make the most of the camera, its position, and its framing, to evoke emotion and draw you into this world. A good example of this is the opening shot of the film, we have a farmer’s field that has been harvested so the hay is in bails, you have crows cawing in the background. This is a picturesque snapshot of rural Australia and then a tractor breaks over the crest of the hill, followed by a police car in hot pursuit. It immediately draws you in, and makes you want to know more about the story and what led to this moment. This is one example but you see it throughout the film. Fun fact the director Jeffrey Walker is someone I use to watch on TV all the time growing up in the 1990s in Australia, and it has really been great seeing him continue to achieve amazing things behind the camera. As well as this, I also have to give a shout out to the amazing soundtrack, there were these moments when the music swelled and you can’t help but be carried along with it.
At the heart of what makes Ali’s Wedding work is the relationships between the different characters, this means that if they had no chemistry then it would all fall apart. Thankfully instead wheat we get is a film that feels like almost like a documentary, you feel at times that you are watching a real family go about their day. This, of course, is probably helped by the fact that this is based on the life of the writer and cast member Osamah Sami, as the film says this is a true story … unfortunately. It’s clear that Mahdi cares for his family and his congregation, and very much fits into the role of peacemaker. Zahra loves her children with all her heart, and is constantly trying to give them the best in life, even if that means embarrassing them in front of their peers. Indeed it is this loving environment that creates the perfect storm for Ali, who is desperate not to disappoint them, of course, the prodding of Sayyed (Majid Shokor) and his constant posturing, didn’t help. This, of course, happens within a context that many Australians won’t be familiar with, and that is the daily workings of the local Mosque. However, while the setting might not be familiar with people, the themes and story will be.
Indeed, it is a story and situation that we can all relate to, that moment when we say a lie, and the lie grows until we have no control over it. There is an almost inevitability that at some point it will all come crashing down, and that is something everyone can sympathise with. The movie consistently touches on themes of love, duty, expectations, and what you do for family. These are universal themes, they are something we all understand, and we have all had to deal with them and their aftermaths throughout our lives. I would not be surprised if people draw comparisons between Ali’s Wedding and The Big Sick (review), it is dealing with some similar themes, and they both have a story based on the true story of their lead character, however, they are both approaching their story from very different contexts and directions. For starters, this is a deeply Australian film in both its tone and surroundings. There are those phrases and icons that ground the film in its setting, well as much as AFL can ground anything. Though I do have to say there seemed to be one mistake, at one point Ali orders some Potato Cakes, when clearly he should be ordering Potato Scallops … come at me Victoria. Now, of course, the big difference is that The Big Sick doesn’t have a musical number about the fall of Saddam Hussain, then again, I don’t think any movie has had a musical number about the fall of Saddam Hussain.
One of the reasons why Ali’s Wedding works is that it is written by someone who knows and understands the community he is writing about, so at no point does the film slip into caricatures, well except for that before mentioned Saddam Husain musical, but that fits within the context of the musical. This is really important because it allows people to identify with those themes that are universal, and is a good reminder that there are more things that unite us as a people and a community. As well as this, it also allows you to also be critical when you need to be critical, and have it come from a place of understanding.
All of this is sold in Osamah Sami’s performance as Ali, and also Helana Sawires performance as Dianne. They both have great chemistry with each other on screen, but that is because they are both fully realised characters. You feel that joy when they are together, the sadness when they are apart, the awkwardness when Ali tries out his Saddam voice, the pain of betrayal. You are constantly hoping for the best, but the whole time you know that it is all going to fall apart. As well as this, the whole supporting cast is a riot of fun, from Haj (Rodney Afif) and his wife awful baklava, to Wazza (Ryan Corr) who could not have a more stereotypical Australian name if he tried. If these were not fully formed characters you would not feel for Yomna (Maha Wilson) and everything Ali puts her through, or for Ramona (Asal Shenaveh) and her annoyance but love for her brothers. It is these characters, which are based off real people that help you connect, and you feel their joy, their loss, their happiness, and their anger.
There are a couple of small issues, nothing major but they are there. It does start to drag a little bit during the second act when we know where this is all heading but it takes a bit to get there. Also, a couple of the arcs of some the supporting cast were really clear from almost the start, so there aren’t any real surprises to how some of them acted throughout the film. So you kind of know who is going to be the ass in the movie, and what their motivations are and how they will act, after only a few minutes of them being on screen. As I said, these are just small things, but they do stall us getting to the key moments a little bit.
In the end, do I recommend Ali’s Wedding, yes of course I do. As well as this, this is an important film because it is treading new ground in Australian cinema, it is the first Muslim rom-com that has been made here. Why is this important, because of it is part of a growing trend across Australia which we see in shows like Clevermen (review) of exploring different aspects of our society. We need to see more films like this, we need to see the world through different lenses, we need to explore stories and cultures we have not seen before, the more this happens the better our society will be. Finally, I spent most of the movie with a big smile on my face from the sheer joy this film brought me, I laughed and cried, and if it is showing near you I recommend you check it out.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Ali’s Wedding
Directed by – Jeffrey Walker
Written by – Andrew Knight & Osamah Sami
Based on – The life of Osamah Sami
Music by – Nigel Westlake
Cinematography by – Donald McAlpine
Edited by – Geoffrey Lamb
Starring – Osamah Sami, Helana Sawires, Don Hany, Frances Duca, Maha Wilson, Robert Rabiah, Khaled Khalafalla, Asal Shenaveh, Rodney Afif, Ghazi Alkinani, Majid Shokor, Shayan Salehian, Rahel Romahn, Natalie Gamsu, Aljin Abella & Ryan Corr
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: na; Germany: na; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: na; United States: na