It is not usually the first impression that critics and viewers have upon seeing a Ken Loach movie, but this guy can really film a good sex scene.
Such, at any rate, is the case for Ae Fond Kiss, one of Loach's most moving and enjoyable films. It is in the tradition of Carla's Song (1996) – the gifted Paul Laverty wrote both scripts – in allowing into Loach's often dark universe a large dose of passionate romance.
Of course, for Loach, no love story is worth telling unless it reflects a clash of wider social forces. Set in Glasgow, Ae Fond Kiss is about the explosive encounter of Casim (Atta Yaqub), a second-generation Pakistani from a devout and close-knit Muslim family, and Roisin (Eva Birthistle), Irish-Catholic and white.
The sex is great, but it is not enough to hold back the tide of external, politically interfering factors. Both Casim and Roisin face disapproval and prejudice from their respective communities.
Even worse, Casim is torn between a will to rebel against tradition and loyalty to his parents – a conflict especially exacerbated when the girl that he has been set up to marry, Jasmine (Sunna Mirza), turns up in Glasgow.
Loach and Laverty deftly paint a complex picture wherein other characters stand for extreme positions. This is particularly vivid with Casim's two sisters, the younger Tahara (Shabana Bakhsh) who argues for embracing the freedoms of modern life, and the older Rukhsana (Ghizala Avan) who does her best to derail her brother's plans.
Everything comes to a head in an unforgettable and heartbreaking scene where their father, Tariq (Ahmad Riaz), unveils a new house extension that he hopes will reunite the family.
More than any other social-realist working in contemporary cinema, Loach often makes his regular viewers wonder if every story of a beleaguered world must necessarily end with depression and tragedy. Rarely does Loach allow a Utopian note of transcendence to enter his work.
In Ae Fond Kiss, he asks the eternal question: can romantic love, indeed, conquer all? And the fact that he takes the question seriously creates a new level of richness within the drama.
© Adrian Martin May 2005