Ali's Wedding Review
Ali's father has a saying: “A lie travels in the soul, and then travels the world.” Three lies have shaped Ali's life – one saved his father and got his parents out of Saddam Hussein's Iraq before he was born. The second, had them believe they had a life as Iraqis in Iran. And as for the third...
Melbourne. Ali (Osamah Sami), Charlie to his Anglo mates, is the son of cleric Mahdi (Don Hany). His parents are keen for him to become a doctor, but he knows he's not likely to pass the entrance exam. They also want him to find a good Muslim bride. Dianne (Halana Sawires), the daughter of Lebanese fish-and-chip-shop owner Mohsen (Robert Rabiah), has her heart set on becoming a doctor and is far better at it than Ali but her father thinks she should stay at home and not go to a University full of lecherous boys. When the results come in, Ali in the heat of the moment tells everyone he's scored much higher than he has. The third lie, and Ali has to go through with the façade.
Ali's Wedding is a romantic comedy which avoids many of the clichés of the genre. Its setting in an Australian Muslim community gives it a lot of freshness. As Tony Ayres (a film director himself, and this film's executive producer) says, it's a film about Muslims where the only Bombers are an Australian Rules Football club. Its subtitle is “A True Story Unfortunately” as a lot of this story really happened, and it happened to Osamah Sami, the lead actor and co-writer (with Andrew Knight). Needless to say, there is quite a bit of dramatic licence taken, in the usual ways, with several real-life people composited into one onscreen character. However, some of the scenes which may seem too far fetched we are assured they did occur. Sami and his friends did play in a stage musical about Saddam Hussein written by his father, and were about to take the production to Detroit, only to be stopped as they entered the USA and deported back to Australia on suspicion of being terrorists.
As with any romantic comedy, you can surmise how the film is about to turn out, but the point is to see what obstacles are put in the way and how they are overcome. Sami and Knight's script gives time to a strong supporting cast. Both patriarchal figures are governed by their religion, but they both have shading – Mahdi is, at times, pragmatic rather than unbending and also has ambitions to write comedy-musicals about Saddam Hussein starring his son. The subtext of how second-generation migrants and their parents have different views about how to live in their new country certainly rings true, though of course I'm in no position to vouch for that.
Possibly a little long at just over a 105 minutes, Ali's Wedding is still a warm, often very funny film. Although it's Sami's debut script, and his story ultimately, his more experienced co-writer clearly had a hand in shaping the material. Jeffrey Walker is a director with a lot of experience in television, also as an actor, but his first two cinema features were both released in 2017, this one and Dance Academy: The Movie, the latter based on a TV series of which he directed eight episodes. A first-time (or nearly-first-time) director is often profitably paired with a very experienced cinematographer, here it is Donald McAlpine, now in his eighties but still working, and who photographed many of the key films of the 1970s Australian New Wave. It's thanks to his work that this lowish-budget film looks as good as it does.
At the 2017 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards, Ali's Wedding won for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for seven others. As yet it has not had a British release.
Madman's DVD of Ali's Wedding is PAL format and encoded for all regions. It carries the advisory M rating, though by British standards it's a likely 15 due to strong language.
The DVD transfer is in the original aspect ratio of 2.40:1, anamorphically enhanced. The film was digitally-captured, and the transfer is pristine, strong and colourful with solid blacks. It was shot in 4K resolution and would have had an at least 2K DCP for its cinema showings, so it's a pity that it, like far too many new Australian films, hasn't been granted a Blu-ray release.
There are three soundtrack options: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround (2.0) and an audio-descriptive Dolby Surround track. This isn't the most adventurous of sound mixes, with the surrounds mostly being used for Nigel Westlake's music score and the subwoofer hardly being called upon, but the dialogue is clear. Some Arabic dialogue gets fixed English subtitles in yellow, and there are English hard-of-hearing subtitles available.
The extras begin with sixteen short featurettes. Behind the Scenes (6:25) features the two principle cast members, Walker, McAlpine and the film's producers on what they see the film is about, and this continues in Ali and Dianne – A Love Story (3:41) and The Origins of Ali's Wedding (1:36). Some of the featurettes detail particular parts of the filmmaking process, such as music (Nigel Westlake and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, 5:55) and cinematography (Don McAlpine and Jeffrey Walker, 3:25). Production design comes under the spotlight (Building Worlds, 2:30), with Iraq recreated in Australia with the aid of some red dust, and an Albanian mosque being used when other mosques turned the production down (The Search for a Mosque, 3:32).
The difficult casting process is covered in Casting Ali and Dianne (1:53), the latter being straightforward, the latter more difficult until Helana Sawires turned up. Saddam the Musical (7:17) covers the play within the film, and includes video footage of the real-life production. We also have Casting the Extras (2:01) and a look at The Men of the Mosque (4:10) and The Women of Ali's Wedding (2:26) and a look at the film's cowriter/star by one of the other actors, Don Hany on Osamah Sami (1:25). More thematic in approach are Truth and Lies (1:32) and Why This Story Now? (1:51) and finally Sami and Knight discuss Writing Ali's Wedding (3:13). As the running times indicate, these are all brief, EPK-type items, but there's interesting information to be had from them as they effectively add up to a making-of featurette of over fifty minutes, though there's no Play All option.
Also on the disc is the trailer for Ali's Wedding (2:17) and Madman Propaganda which are trailers for some of the distributor's other releases, including Jasper Jones, UnIndian and Emo the Musical.