Barakah Meets Barakah

Barakah Meets Barakah

Image by Barakah Meets Barakah

Daniel Nelson

Barakah Meets Barakah is a Saudi romcom.

Do I need to say more? Surely that’s enough to get you into the cinema.

Ok: it’s a delightful, funny, warm, Saudi romcom.

Filmed in Riyadh, it won’t be widely seen there or anywhere else in the country, which has only one cinema. But the DVDs and pirate copies will be devoured by Saudi sophisticates.

It’s about the thwarted romance of a popular glamoropus vlogger, who can’t show her face, and a municipal official who drives around town fining café owners for extending their tables and chairs onto the pavement and fat cat property developers who disdainfully ignore regulations.

She catches his eye when he comes across a crew filming a commercial. She’s from a rich, elite family (though her relationship isn't initially clear), he’s unworldly, from a poorer part of town, with a father who drinks. They are worlds apart but they hit it off, because though she’s romantic she’s honest enough to see there’s a good man beneath his ardent goofiness.

So off we go: it’s uptown girl, downtown man; rich girl, poor boy; glitzy gowns and galleries against community cohesion and closeness. Their stuttering romance stumbles through every romcom cliché – but given fresh life with a Saudi twist.

They have seconds together looking at art in a gallery, until she has to slip away as the religious police arrive. He wants to buy her a present but gets a hopelessly  inappropriate thong. His plan for a date is stymied when he’s barred as a single man from entering a theme park where she’s waiting for him. And of course, to her family he’s unthinkable … until snobby mum finds that humble man can get her access to someone she needs.

Their impossible courtship is gently and wryly observed, as are some of the oddities of Saudi life and the predictable contrast between the pretentions of the rich family and the earthiness of the poor.  But just when you think the film might be sinking into saccharine, director Mahmoud Sabbagh (a Columbia University journalism grad) tosses in a couple of critical grenades. Maybe the censors had lost interest by then, or perhaps were entranced by the rom and the com.

The limitations on filming in Saudi Arabia are obvious but inventively side-stepped and the films lightness of touch subverts criticism. This is a first, it’s fun, and you won’t see many like it.

* Barakah Meets Barakah is showing at the London International Film Festival

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