A thoughtful drama about race, roots, and cross-cultural love, Ae Fond Kiss... explores interesting issues without ever being essential. It certainly lacks the impact of Sweet Sixteen, the best of director Ken Loach's collaborations with human rights lawyer-turned-screenwriter Paul Laverty. Not that its Romeo And Juliet-style premise isn't diverting, with Casim (Atta Yaqub), an Asian Scot, torn between his traditional family and Roisin (Eva Birthistle), the free-spirited (lapsed) Catholic teacher he falls for. But it isn't compelling.
In large part this comes down to Casim, a character whose emasculated nature is infuriating. It's a strength of the story that his dilemma is understandable - his Islamic heritage and Western values both appealing yet flawed - but Yaqub lacks the experience necessary to convey such a conflicted conscience without appearing a bit, well, damp. A model-turned-actor, he's only got halfway there: looking great but sounding stilted. When bleating "I should have foreseen the hurt," he doesn't demand sympathy so much as a good slapping.
"TENDERNESS TO THE CENTRAL ROMANCE"
Birthistle has a better time of it, but the outstanding acting comes from two bit-players, with Shabana Bakhsh fiercely charismatic as Casim's rebellious younger sister and Gerard Kelly quite brilliant in his single scene, as a sharp-tongued, chain-smoking priest who demolishes Roisin's flaccid thinking. A film about either of these could have been fascinating (perhaps we'll see it it in the future), but Loach's much-praised ability with non-professional actors lets him down elsewhere, with some performers in more need of a tree surgeon than a director.
Still, there is a tenderness to the central romance that engages, and Laverty's script impressively depicts the cultural divide without favouring either side. This is believable, intelligent filmmaking. It's just that, considering the makers' pedigree, Ae Fond Kiss... is more of a peck than a smacker.