2007-02-27 11:00

The day after her fortieth birthday, Sabah (Arsinée Khanjian) goes swimming and meets Stephen (Shawn Doyle). They start having lunch every week and slowly fall in love, but there’s one small problem – Sabah is Muslim, Stephen is not. Despite these cultural differences their romance grows into something deeper, creating serious problems for Sabah. Although she has a loving and close-knit family, she has to hide the relationship from everyone except Souhaire (Fadia Nadda), her very Westernised niece. At the same time, Sabah must look after her ailing mother and prevent her brother arranging a marriage for the 18-year-old Souhaire.


Cultures colliding when people fall in love has been covered endlessly in film. Either outrageously humorous or deathly serious, few movies about the subject ever display the down-to-earth sincerity and warmth that Sabah does. While My Big Fat Greek Wedding was rollicking fun, this small Canadian film has a gentle charm that is unhindered by stereotypes or sentimentality.

Sabah takes us inside a modern Muslim family living in Western society and reveals that… well, families fight yet still love each other. The men usually have more influence and financial control. Mothers are bossy and stubborn. Everyone eats KFC in front of the television sometimes. It’s really not that different.

Although the differences that do exist are portrayed in a matter-of-fact way that neither preaches nor defends Islamic culture, but rather enables us to see it as an integral part of who Sabah is. She tells Stephen she wears a hijab because it is indecent to display her hair in public – it is considered “provocative”. When she finally does reveal her beautiful long, curly hair to him, he is awestruck. It is an intensely romantic moment.

Another remarkable element of the film is that it offers us a glimpse into Muslim women’s lives behind closed doors. They wear revealing clothing, tell jokes and practice enticing belly dances. They are exhibitionists for the ones they love and respect, not total strangers.

However, Sabah is more unusual. She chose not to marry and definitely has an independent spirit, but is still less confident than both her sister and niece. It’s only once she falls in love with Stephen that she casts off her shyness and starts to enjoy everything life has to offer.

It may all sound rather sober, but there are wonderful touches of mirth that will have you giggling throughout. Many are courtesy of Sabah’s mother (played by Setta Keshishian), the witty and adored matriarch who brings the family together, and Sabah’s niece, the vibrant Souhaire. At one point she comes up with a hilarious way to rid herself of a marriage suitor, much to the chagrin of her uncle Majid.

And even though the focus of the film is Sabah’s love story, we are also shown the complexity of Majid (Jeff Seymour). He married for love, yet is strangely domineering and old-fashioned with the women in his family. As the only son, he also has to deal with unseen pressures and responsibilities.

It’s a great credit to this film that none of the characters are cardboard cutouts, although Stephen (Shawn Doyle) is probably the least developed, being a kindly man of simple tastes with “beautiful blue eyes”.

Even though it is a small film, Sabah has a vitality and genuine warmth that is hard to find in the jaded, crass ‘family/rom-com’ stuff Hollywood churns out these days. Arsinée Khanjian is exceptional as the lead, holding the film together with a nuanced performance that reminds us all how it feels to fall in love.

So skip that mindless action flick or over-the-top melodrama and rather see this beautiful, funny love story with family at its heart. Sabah will put a smile on your face and leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling for days afterwards.

- Amanda Whitehouse
Honest, amusing and heartwarming, Sabah is a film that will leave you with a smile on your face… and an urge to belly dance.

jimmy 2007/01/27 4:23 PM
sabbah unknown
BESH 2007/02/03 5:42 PM
san 2007/03/05 3:55 AM
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