Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Movie Review: Halal Love (And Sex) (2015)

A romantic dramedy, Halal Love (And Sex) explores turbulent relationships colliding with societal expectations and religious boundaries.

In Beirut, three Muslim couples living in the same neighbourhood navigate issues of love and sex. Awatef (Mirna Moukarzel) and Salim (Ali Sammoury) are a middle-aged couple with two young daughters. The overworked and always sour Awatef can no longer tolerate Salim's nightly expectations for sex. She suggests he take on a second wife, as he is entitled to, to help fulfil domestic duties. Salim is not keen, but Awatef nevertheless starts a search for a suitable additional spouse.

Their neighbours are newlyweds Batoul (Zeinab Khadra) and Mokhtar (Hussein Mokadem). They are in love, but Mokhtar cannot control his jealousy and explodes into a rage whenever he perceives Batoul flirting. Their young marriage threatens to disintegrate into a messy divorce. The third story features recent divorcee Loubna (Darine Hamze), who is finally free to pursue a romance with her original love Abou Ahmad (Rodrigue Sleiman), although he is now married with children. Loubna, who is also considering emigrating, risks a scandal by embarking on a relationship with Abou Ahmad, but reality interferes with her expectations of an ideal romance.

A Lebanese production directed and written by Assad Fouladkar, Halal Love (And Sex) purposefully tackles touchy subjects often kept behind closed doors in conservative societies. The film is always bold, often loud, and sometimes funny, but the subjects are serious. While some stretches dip into television sitcom levels, Fouladkar excels in the character introductions, and the drama flows from six adults tiptoeing through a minefield of societal dictates and religious rules attempting to govern hormones and emotions. 

The mature themes are tied together by unmet expectations and unintended consequences. All three couples attempt a purposeful fix: Awatef actively recruits a second wife for Salim; Mokhtar divorces Batoul; Loubna engages in a pleasure marriage with Abou Ahmad. But instead of finding happiness, new and more complex emotions surface, including unexpected envy, yearning for an impossible togetherness, and disintegration of idealistic romantic notions.

The writing meanders between hollow and organic, and the performances are equally patchy. Darine Hamze and Zeinab Khadra provide most of the nuance, while others default to basic theatricality and overdependence on shouting. No secondary characters stand out, although Awatef's two young daughters provide the outright humour through their misinterpretation of the facts of life.

While the three stories are discrete, the couples co-exist in a ramshackle Beirut neighbourhood. The cameras linger on the mess of dangling electric wires at every street corner representing the country's dysfunction. Even in a place where the basics are nonexistent, love and sex thrive as tumultuous fundamentals of human resilience.



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