Exorcist: The Beginning

Starring Shamshad Akhtar, Ghizala Avan. Directed by Ken Loach
Running Time: 104 mins.

For almost forty years, Ken Loach has devoted himself to films with passionate social concern. Not only is he still going strong, his reputation is higher than ever. During the last decade, he has won awards, critical acclaim and a larger following from the general public. His collaborator for the last seven or eight years has been a Scotsman, Paul Laverty, who spent some time in a seminary. This religious interest has been prominent in some of the films (like Carla's Song) and it is one of the key elements of Ae Fond Kiss.

'Ae Fond Kiss' is a quotation from the poet, Robert Burns. The two protagonists of this film are involved in more than a fond kiss. He is an earnest young man, a local DJ, who lives with his family, preparing for an arranged marriage. She is a music teacher at the school which his younger servant attends. The crucial information, however, is this: he is the son of Pakistani migrants to Glasgow, strictly traditional and devoutly Muslim; she is a Catholic and her school is Catholic.

The romantic element is treated as might be expected, delightful little details (like moving her piano with his local friends) and a sudden holiday in Spain (where some of the production money came from). Much of it is routine with a touch of sentiment.

The drama arises when the family discovers the truth. Once again, a lot of this is what we might expect. The Pakistani parents are adamant. The prospective in-laws are shocked. The son is defiant. Where the film is of greater interest is in the Catholic response: the principal wanting to keep the teacher but the parish priest giving her a severe lecture on moral standards and examples for the children.

Matters come to a head when the Pakistani older sister finds that her boyfriend's family will not permit a marriage because of her brother's involvement with a non-Muslim. She makes a very strong case for self- sacrifice on the part of the couple, making a plea to both parties. However, we live in a very emotional world, where sympathies for those in love are usually stronger than relying on principles.

Loach and Laverty offer us a story where the issues are clear but where the answers are very difficult.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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