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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Film review: Halal Love’s strong ensemble cast and a feel-good mood ensure for a smash hit

The film follows a series of interwoven everyday stories, seen in tragicomic situations, showing four couples seeiking a 'halal' love.
A scene from Halal Love which will screen as part of Diff. Courtesy of Diff
A scene from Halal Love which will screen as part of Diff. Courtesy of Diff

Halal Love

Director: Assad Fouladkar

Starring: Darine Hamze, Rodrigue Sleiman, Mirna Moukarzel, Zeinab Hind Khadra, Hussein Mokaddem, Ali Sammoury, Fadia Abi Chahine

Three and a half stars

Be careful what you wish for — that’s the tried and trodden message at the heart of Halal Love, the offbeat Lebanese drama which received its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival.

As the playful name suggests, this is another film about struggling to reconcile tradition and affection in contemporary Beirut. But while the theme may be nothing new, it’s the fanciful and funny way writer-director Assad Fouladkar slyly explore a series of interwoven everyday stories — four couples seeking a love that is, indeed, “halal” — which breathes fresh life.

We meet increasingly tragicomic situations: The newly divorced, thirty-something Loubna (an excellent turn from Beyrouth hôtel’s Darine Hamze), who has to choose between a visa for Australia, and the sudden revival of affections from her (married), fruit n’ veg-selling teenage sweetheart (a stoic Rodrigue Sleiman). We meet motheaded young groom Mokhtar (newcomer Hussein Mokadem) who, after divorcing his eyelash-fluttering bride three times, is forced to consider pairing his sweetheart to another man so that they can later legally remarry and start a family. Most playful of all is the ageing wife, who wins a campaign to convince her husband to take a second wife and alleviate her marital strain.

“If you want to marry your daughter off, just ask the one who tried her first,” she tells a potential new bride, to roars of laughter.

As you can imagine, not all of the above goes to plan.

With such an undertaking, mood is key, and Fouladkar works hard to maintain a quirky, on screen zing, while building characters we can care about.

Things occasionally slide into too far — there’s fleeting moments you could charge with caricature and melodrama — as the script draws from a limited emotional palette of primary colours. But these colours are both the brightest, and the most universal.

More than just religion and tradition, the havoc that family, money and expectation reek on relationships is explored — this is a portrait of everyday lives, polarised for comic affect, but affecting and insightful nonetheless.

With decent production values, a strong ensemble cast and a feel-good mood, this is already a guaranteed regional smash. News Halal Love has been picked up to compete at January’s Sundance signal hopes it could gain a footing on next year’s international festival circuit, too.

Halal Love screens again as part of Diff on Tuesday (December 15), 6.45pm at Mall of the Emirates. Standby tickets only.

rgarratt@thenational.ae