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SABAH (director/writer: Ruba Nadda; cinematographer: Luc Montpellier; editor: Teresa Hannigan; cast: Arsinee Khanjian (Sabah), Shawn Doyle (Stephen), Fadia Nadda (Souhaire), Jeff Seymour (Majid), Kathryn Winslow (Amal), David Alpay (Mustafa), Roual Said (Shaheera), Setta Keshishian (Sabah’s Mother); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tracey Boulton; Mongrel Media; 2005-Canada)
“Like a My Big Fat Greek Wedding only served with Syrian baklava.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Female filmmaker Ruba Nadda (“Aadan”/”Black September “/”I Would Suffer Cold Hands for You”) directs and writes this sweet romantic/comedy drama that centers around a culture clash over religion, but offers little drama and no surprises and the visuals seem flat. Though Arsinée Khanjan (wife of noted Canadian director Atom Egoyan, who serves as executive producer) gives a fine performance moving from vulnerability to a lit up woman in love, it still looks like practically all the other ethnic family dramas (especially like a My Big Fat Greek Wedding only served with Syrian baklava), except this one is about Muslims in Canada.

Sabah (Arsinée Khanjan) is a knockout single 40-year-old resident of Toronto, who lives with her ill immigrant Syrian mother (Setta Keshishian) and is a dutiful daughter to her devout mother. On her birthday she recalls from a photo how independent and happy she was as a child, and for the first time in her adult life rebels by swimming in the local pool. There she meets a hunky nice guy Christian carpenter (think Jesus!) named Stephen (Shawn Doyle). Sabah keeps the relationship secret, fearing her traditional family would not accept someone not Muslim. Her overbearing older brother Majid (Jeff Seymour), though college educated instead runs the business he inherited from his father, is obsessed with keeping the vow he made to his dad before he passed away that he would look after the family and despite being married to a non-Arab Canadian named Amal (Kathryn Winslow) his views are rigidly old-fashioned: that a woman’s place is in the home, that his teenage daughter Souhaire (Fadia Nadda) should have an arranged marriage (which brings about an open rebellion) and that he should support all the gals in his family to prevent them from entering the workplace.

It leads to a predictable and all too easy happy ending (though gladly welcomed it seemed unconvincing and stilted), as things work out when mom seems less intolerant than thought and is willing to make more of an adjustment for living in a foreign land than her controlling son and accepts the marriage plans of her reinvigorated daughter.

This crowd pleasing low-key and low-budgeted film was shot in Toronto over 20 days.

REVIEWED ON 10/17/2008 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”