The Love


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

El Houb/The Love
"The agony of strained relationships is tempered here by beautifully observed comedy." | Photo: courtesy of Newfest

There’s a popular myth that for LGBTQ+ people, the process of coming out involves making a single, brave declaration to loved ones who, for good or ill, immediately acknowledge the reality of the situation. For many people, however, it doesn’t work that way. Often a family will already know, and the individual in question will know that they know, but nobody will be willing to talk about it. Everything becomes about keeping up appearances – any number of behaviours deemed inappropriate might be tacitly accepted as long as they’re kept quiet, but accompanying emotions are not taken seriously and honesty is right out.

Karim (Fahd Larhzaoui) is sick of living like that. His partner Kofi (Emmanuel Boafo) is still more frustrated by it, having left his own family behind in order to live openly as a gay man. Karim doesn’t want to do the same. The love of the film’s title is multiform. Under pressure from Kofi, however, he visits his family home and broaches the subject openly with his mother Fatima (Lubna Azabal) and father Abbas (Slimane Dazi). When they refuse to engage in conversation about it, he responds by literally going back into the closet: locking himself in the hallway cupboard and refusing to leave.

The agony of strained relationships is tempered here by beautifully observed comedy which will particularly appeal to viewers who are themselves members of MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) immigrant communities in Europe. The warmth of that community further enriches the film. Though it emphasises just how much Karim risks losing, it also provides humour as Fatima struggles to dissuade visitors who have heard that her son is home from inviting themselves in. She’s desperate not to seem inhospitable, but terrified that he will shout out something gay from the closet, or that they will somehow figure out what’s going on. Questions are asked about his supposed girlfriend (a woman with whom he tried and failed to have a relationship which might allow him to fit in), and concerns emerge that the family’s secrecy must stem from some terrible revelation about his health. By default, the women endeavour to solve everything with food.

Whilst this story is developing, we travel back in time with Karim, who remembers spending time in the same closet as a boy (portrayed by Shad Issa), as he reflects on the fate of a community member who was outed by the imam, and whom, at the time, he lacked the courage to stand by. Wrestling with his own guilt in relation to this, and with a weight of internalised homophobia, complicates his feelings about his parents’ reactions, and about those of his brother, who arrives home drunk and gives him a lecture about going against Islam.

The complexity of this world, and the detail with which it is drawn, is matched by the detail in the production design and the quality of the performances which hold it all together. It’s informed by a deep understanding of the central issue and the gulf between what people profess to believe and how they actually live. There is no simple conclusion, but it’s more satisfactory for that, with a beautiful final shot which recalls the staging of Hitchcock’s Rear Window and reveals the neighbourhood in all its diversity. Elsewhere, director Shariff Nasr’s ambitious staging doesn’t always work as well as he might have hoped, but it still adds interesting texture to a story which is all about the messiness of family life.

Reviewed on: 27 Dec 2022
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Moroccan-Dutch Karim returns to his family home and opens up to his parents about being attracted to men.

Director: Shariff Nasr

Writer: Shariff Nasr, Philip Delmaar, Fahd Larhzaoui

Starring: Fahd Larhzaoui, Lubna Azabal, Slimane Dazi, Sabri Saddik

Year: 2022

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: Netherlands


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