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Friday
Mar072008

Ae Fond Kiss

aefondkiss2_wideweb__430x284.jpgOnce and rather peremptorily, I hypothesized to a young woman that the realization of love came upon reflection in old age.  And she, a fellow student at this German university, told me in no uncertain terms that I was an unfortunate soul who had not seen the bright side of life.  Well, she was quite wrong about what I had and hadn't seen; and as often happens when those of us prone to pondering come upon what they think is a piece of the truth, I repeated the same proposition to other people (that first student was someone I met and spoke to for thirty minutes who then vanished into oblivion).  Some were just as skeptical; others, more understanding of cranks and their speculation, nodded as if admitting that the plainest idea – and my idea was quite plain – sometimes juts forth like a crag of truth amidst the clouds of doubt.  Yet most of us do not want to find our alpha in our omega: we yearn for experiences of emotion akin to those in this world–famous play of star–crossed lovers, if without the final chapter.  Romance against impossible odds is the finest metaphor we have for forging lifelong human relationships, for beating time by engaging in something that is its superior.  Should you be a little along in years, or even just a particularly insightful if inexperienced person, you know how much easier it is to wait through an entire life for perfection than accept lapsarian shortcomings.  When luck prevails, we catch glimpses of paradise in the form of another mortal who appears as the answer to all the questions we never knew to ask.        

Now you may read a few thousand books and watch a few thousand films in your lifetime, derive from them expectations of plot, characters, and meaning, and then wonder whether we are all bound to certain role-playing modules.  Even for those of us who seek out cinema which (to paraphrase this fine author) alters the film machine and doesn't just feed it, there are a limited number of plausible scenarios.  I will not bore you with a disquisition on what themes arise most frequently, but you can be sure that one of them is forbidden love.  Forbidden not because it is perverse or in violation of some statute on indecency, but forbidden by much higher powers: by fate, by parents, by God.  The Montagues and the Capulets did not approve, and their children could not live in submission and so died in defiance.  Is love worth infringing upon your parents' ideals and dreams?   The question is so fundamental and at the same time so silly that only an example will suffice, which brings us to this fine film.
 
The title is not a misspelling but a quote from a poem by that most quoted of Scottish bards, Robert Burns.  It doesn't really matter what the title is anyway since the plot is formulaic and predictable and yet most of the time perfectly delightful.  The reason for our delight is the chemistry between Casim, the token Easterner (Atta Yaqub), and Roisin, the token Westerner (Eva Birthistle).  They meet in knightly fashion on her territory, a Catholic school where Roisin teaches Casim's younger sister music.  Nothing but the coincidence of location prepares the viewer for this relationship that will blossom, fade, then hopefully blossom again during the course of the film.  Casim’s family is Pakistani and Muslim, although both he and his younger sister, who dreams of studying journalism but will not be given the chance, are fully integrated, accentless natives of Scotland; their older sister is more traditional and already engaged to the son of other Pakistani immigrants on the straight path to becoming a physician.  What they wish for most of all, of course, is the right to choose how to live their lives.  For Casim that means the love of an Irishwoman and a Catholic.

They don’t get that right because that would deprive their parents of their very essence.  Love is great and wonderful and sometimes even blind, and romantic relationships are pieces of our soul that, at life’s end, form something particular, unique, and everlasting.  It may be that we have loved many or none; or maybe there was and will always be only one person for us.  Yet whatever final figure we reach, we will only have one set of parents and one life to make sure they know that we love and appreciate them (if they deserve love and appreciation, which most do).  Going headstrong against their wishes is as self-destructive as a parent’s insistence on being heeded simply because of seniority.  In either case, a reason must be presented and accepted, and if I’m getting a wee too philosophical about the whole matter, that’s because this is purely a matter of philosophy and how to deal with leaving our parents and starting our own life is one of our hardest projects.  Either extreme, complete rejection or compliance, should be avoided, which makes Juliet and her Romeo, while great poetry, a rather pathetic soap opera.

And where does that leave Roisin and Casim, the brainchildren of this fine director?  I cannot say I rightly know what to make of their relationship, improbable as it is because their attenuated music commonality (she is a music instructor, he a deejay) might be, apart from physical attraction, the only thing they share.  Loach loves his political statements and he usually makes them blunt, affable, and correct.  Roisin and Casim are certainly affable, blunt, and flawed, and that renders the whole affair less tragic and more substantial.  Yes, classic Greek tragedy is not real: it is an exaggeration of our emotions into the stratosphere of the gods.  These lovers thankfully don’t come anywhere near the stars.  

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