Ae Fond Kiss... Review

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then for ever!
– Robert Burns

Glasgow, the present day. Casim Khan (Atta Yaqub) is a second-generation Pakistani who works as a club DJ. His parents plan for him to marry his cousin Jasmine, but then Casim meets Roisin Hanlon, the music teacher at the Catholic school his younger sister attends. Soon they fall in love, but it’s a love which is tested by opposition from both the Muslim and Catholic communities…

Although he’s not a Scot himself (he was born in Nuneaton), Ken Loach has clearly found Glasgow a congenial place to make his films in. In partnership with screenwriter Paul Laverty (who is a Scot), Ae Fond Kiss…, is the third film he’s made there, after My Name is Joe and Sweet Sixteen - and that’s not counting the half of Carla’s Song set in the city. On the surface, Ae Fond Kiss is the old story of lovers divided by their families and communities, but as one of those families and communities is British and Muslim, it’s certainly become topical again. Laverty’s screenplay is scrupulously fair to the Muslim characters, though it could be said to be less fair to the Catholic ones. No doubt priests as hardline as the one played by Gerard Kelly here do exist, but he’s still an extreme example: even twenty years ago, most Catholic schools would turn a blind eye to their teachers’ private lives, as long as they kept them discreet. And would anyone really raise objection to the playing of a song by Robert Burns, who is after all Scotland’s national poet? Though the film’s determination to avoid stereotyping its Muslim characters is quite admirable – this is a film where everyone has their reasons for acting as they do – you can’t help thinking that the excesses of Roman Catholicism are a far softer target.

However, Ae Fond Kiss… has plenty to offer. As you can expect from a Ken Loach film, the performances by a largely unknown cast are first-rate. It’s hard to believe that this was Atta Yaqub’s debut performance, so natural he is. Eva Birthistle gives a very fine, and emotionally transparent, performance as Roisin, and the rest of the cast are excellent too. The camerawork of Loach regular Barry Ackroyd is economical and naturalistic, not drawing attention to itself, but as a result we become involved in a drama of real, three-dimensional character and a story that has moments of humour as well as poignancy.

Ken Loach is a director who is revered in Europe but rather neglected in his home country. Yet he continues to make humane, involving films about characters that you’d never see playing the leads in Hollywood productions. And if the results are as good as this, long may he continue.

Ae Fond Kiss… arrives on DVD with an anamorphic transfer, in the ratio of 1.78:1. This is close enough to the cinema ratio of 1.75:1, not unexpected for a low-budget British film, and seemingly correct here. The transfer is first-rate: sharp and colourful, with solid blacks and fine shadow detail. There’s some grain in the darker scenes, though this is no doubt an attribute of the original film.

The packaging says “Dolby Digital 2.0” but that’s incorrect: the film soundtrack is in fact Dolby Digital 5.1. This isn’t a particularly aggressive mix: some scenes in nightclubs could be much louder than normal dialogue, and in other films they would be, but not here. Surrounds are used for ambience, and the subwoofer fills in the bass, particularly in those club scenes.

There are twenty chapter stops. Fixed subtitles are provided for some dialogue in Punjabi. There are optional English hard-of-hearing subtitles for the English dialogue, which is the majority of the film. The DVD is encoded for Region 2 only.

The main extra is a commentary by Ken Loach and Paul Laverty. This isn’t uninteresting, though there are a number of pauses along the way, but in any case much of what you hear here is also included in the other extras, particularly the making-of featurette. (23:33). This is fairly standard EPK stuff, containing interviews with Loach, the leading actors, producer Rebecca O’Brien, Barry Ackroyd and editor Jonathan Morris interspersed with extracts from the film and some behind-the-scenes footage.

Rather meatier is an interview with Ken Loach. This is a Q&A hosted by critic Shane Danielson after a showing of Ae Fond Kiss… at the 2004 Edinburgh International Film Festival. Danielson talks to Loach about his career and working methods, before taking questions from the audience. This is in 4:3 (film extracts in non-anamorphic 16:9) and runs 46:42.

“Deleted scenes and bloopers” follow – five of the former and three of the latter. As usual with this kind of extra, it’s easy to see why these were cut, though the first scene is a humorous scene involving Mr Khan and some builders. There’s also a scene (printed in sepia for some reason) showing a couple of youths holding up Mr Khan’s shop. These scenes are in non-anamorphic 16:9 and run 10:06. Finally, there’s the theatrical trailer (16:9 anamorphic, running 1:56), which does a good job of selling the film without too many spoilers.

Ae Fond Kiss… is a good film that didn’t set British box offices alight. For many people this DVD will be their chance to catch up with the latest film from one of Britain’s consistently finest directors.

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