Director: Assad Fouladkar
Cast: Darine Hamze, Rodrigue Sleiman, Zeinab Khadra
Running Time: 95 Minutes
In this day and age, the word “Islam” brings up all sorts of imagery but rarely do we think of romance within the context of the religion. In Halal Love (and Sex), we take a look at three romantic affairs in Lebanon with three very different circumstances. Although the film itself isn’t perfect, it’s an incredibly educational and realistic look at relationships in a very different part of the world.
The story centers on three women. Awatef (Mirna Moukarzel) is a middle-aged mom of two interested in recruiting a second wife to lighten the load of household chores and help to satisfy her husband’s insatiable needs. Batoul (Zeinab Hind Khadra) is a young wife whose overly jealous husband keeps divorcing her every time she talks to another man. Then there is Loubna (Darine Hamze) who is recently divorced and looking to make big changes in her life, including marrying her true love – except he’s married with kids.
These three women represent three very different relationships and each reveal something unique to their local marriage traditions. Awatef’s story teaches us that men can have up to four wives and that sometimes having more wives is the wife’s idea. Batoul’s situation educates us by showing that husbands can divorce their wives three times before being banned from marrying their wife again. That is, unless the wife takes a new husband, consummates the marriage, and divorces the new man. Then she’s essentially wiped the slate clean and can marry her first husband again. From Loubna we learn that although being divorced isn’t outlawed, a divorced woman is seem as a little scandalous, especially if she lives alone after the divorce. We also learn that a man with a wife and children can enter into a short-term marriage with another woman for a limited amount of time, something that Loubna and her childhood love Abu Ahmad do after she’s divorced.
The media often portrays the Middle East with images of war-torn countries and terrorist groups. Never do we get to see a snapshot of every day life from these countries let alone from a woman’s perspective. This simple fact makes a film like Halal Love (and Sex) that much more important.
The film illustrates the daily life and customs while also highlighting a country in the midst of change. Very often you feel the old butting heads with the new. Loubna’s story is the perfect example. As a recently divorced woman, her mother thinks it’s shameful that Loubna is sleeping around and living alone while Loubna believes it to not be an issue. It’s clear that her idea of normal is very different than her parents.
Stylistically, the film is shot simply, which allows the viewer to become absorbed in the story rather than the style. Director Assad Fouladkar does use quite a few aerial shots that feel almost voyeuristic but greats a truly unique sensation as the audience begins to feel almost as if they are snooping on these women and their lives.
While the stories may not be thrilling, Halal Love (and Sex) is a refreshing look at the normal lives of people living in areas we often only see on the news. It’s sense of humor in pointing out the many contradictions of love, sex, and marriage in a Muslim country makes it a witty, enjoyable watch.