Signature Move

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Signature Move
"Notions of identity, duty to others and duty to the self intersect in this pleasingly nuanced tale."

Despite their greater inclination toward drama, films provide a context in which the course of true love runs considerably more smoothly than it does in real life. That's because, most of the time, love is all that's going on. There may be a love triangle to contend with or a world to save, but it's rare for the much more difficult complicating factors of existing social responsibilities and family life to intrude. In Signature Move, every aspect of life is complicated. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of room for a lasting relationship - but when one of the characters exists that that's exactly what she's not looking for, we know it's on the cards.

That character is Alma (Sari Sanchez), a half Mexican, half Jewish New Yorker embittered by her parents' break-up but still perfectly cool with the idea of a casual fling. It's on that basis that she hits on Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza), the thirtysomething daughter of Pakistani immigrants, when she sees her in a bar. In the morning she lets herself out, but Zaynab tracks her down and seems to want something more serious to happen between them. Or does she?

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Life for Zaynab is equally complicated. She works as a lawyer helping people with immigration issues, and also spends her time looking after her widowed mother, who has no friends, doesn't see the point in leaving the house and is content to watch soap operas all day. Her mother wants to find her a husband, something she has been gently discouraging, but life in the closet is complicated - her mother isn't wholly naive about what her cropped hair and muscular physique might signify. Now, to make things more complicated, a client who doesn't have the money to pay her fee has offered Zaynab Mexican wrestling lessons instead. Zaynab loves her new sport, and is even more intrigued when she learns that Alma's mother is a wrestling legend.

Notions of identity, duty to others and duty to the self intersect in this pleasingly nuanced tale. Alma and Zaynab dance around each other with traditional romcom awkwardness which also reflects the interactions of their communities in this richly cosmopolitan city. Director Jennifer Reeder presents us with frames that are always busy, not necessarily with people but with cultural signifiers - everything from wrestling masks to wall hangings, clothing, art, jewellery and a great abundance of food. This also creates a background against which the traditional signifiers of lesbian culture struggle to assert themselves. Alma and Zaynab are not able to rely on rules to connect them, but have to find the intersection of their paths as individuals.

Sanchez plays Alma as flighty and difficult, a familiar archetype but one that works in context. Mirza brings something more unusual to Zaynab, whose butchness never manages to conceal an emotional delicacy. As carer and provider for her mother, she's strong; in relationships, she worries about her inexperience and the seeming unknowability of women. Shabana Azmi is superb as her mother, trying to find a way through her own belief system (built as much on soaps as religion) to a point where she can truly support her daughter.

Signature Move is a film adept at finding the gaps in this tangle of personal, familial and cultural stories. It's witty and warm-hearted and often one step ahead of where it appears to be. You won't have to be a wrestling fan to find yourself fixated by the final tussle in the ring.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2017
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Signature Move packshot
The story of a young woman navigating her life between a mother who doesn’t really know her daughter and a burgeoning relationship that offers the possibility of real happiness.

Director: Jennifer Reeder

Writer: Fawzia Mirza, Lisa Donato

Starring: Fawzia Mirza, Shabana Azmi, Sari Sanchez

Year: 2017

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Flare 2017

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