Scottish Queer International Film Festival: Breaking Fast

Year: 2020
Duration: 92 minutes
Written and Directed by Mike Mosallam
Starring: Haaz Sleiman, Michael Cassidy, Amin El Gamal

By Caz Armstrong

“Breaking Fast” is an uplifting, if formulaic, romantic comedy about a gay relationship between a Muslim and a non-Muslim which develops during the holy month of Ramadan. Written and directed by Mike Mosallam, the feature was developed from a short film of the same name which received much praise when it was shown at Cannes in 2015.

Mo (Haaz Sleiman) is a doctor living in West Hollywood where he doesn’t really fit in. As a practicing Muslim he doesn’t drink alcohol and feels out of place in the gay scene. He is out to his family who all love and accept him. But his relationship has broken down and he’s struggling to move on.

He meets a white American guy Kal (Michael Cassidy) a friend’s birthday party and they spend the next few weeks during Ramadan developing a relationship, sharing Iftar (breaking the daily fast) and refraining from kissing or other forbidden thoughts and actions. Through the course of the blossoming relationship both their pasts begin to cause a rift. Could two people so different on paper develop a loving long term relationship?

While the structure may be rather unimaginative, the premise is fresh and uplifting. It’s wonderful to see Islam shown in a positive and natural light alongside a clear message that faith and homosexuality are not mutually exclusive.

But more than that, different experiences and expressions of Islam are explored, along with the impressions it creates for others. Indeed there are extremists amongst people of all religions and none. “Breaking Fast” allows Muslims to debate this between themselves, expressing their own relationships to a shared religion. It actually looks more deeply at the other end of the spectrum. Islam is a peaceful faith and this in itself causes frustrations when it comes across as excessive passivity.

                “The religion you follow doesn’t allow people to kill in Allah’s name but that doesn’t mean people don’t” – Kal

There is a distinct lack of coming to terms or coming out so prevalent in LGBT+ films. Instead it’s about the natural joys and difficulties of starting a new relationship like any other. The lack of trauma relating to homosexuality is, unfortunately, refreshing.

“Food and family are of central importance. Mouth-watering meals are prepared with love and the camera takes in all of their vibrant colours and textures with slow motion close ups.

Food and family are of central importance. Mouth-watering meals are prepared with love and the camera takes in all of their vibrant colours and textures with slow motion close ups.  The shopping, preparation and ritual that goes along with food is all lovingly expressed.

The film is slightly let down by uneven acting and a script that is far too on-the-nose to feel natural.  There’s no need to explain things to quite such a degree, especially if the point has already been made elsewhere. At times Mo and Kal’s relationship is relaxed and pure, spilling over with love and glowing glances. But at others their flirtation feels painfully awkward and forced.

“Breaking Fast” allows Muslims to debate this between themselves, expressing their own relationships to a shared religion. It actually looks more deeply at the other end of the spectrum. Islam is a peaceful faith and this in itself causes frustrations when it comes across as excessive passivity.

While the dialogue captures some important and at times complicated messages, it can be overly expositional. “Please don’t forget you’re speaking to your best friend here, not one of your patients”. Plot points fall so conveniently as to feel contrived and formulaic.

But we can (mostly) forgive the filmmakers as the rest of the film offers a much needed message that religion and homosexuality can go hand in hand. And that relationships can be exciting and scary, complicated and joyful no matter your sexuality.

SQIFF is running from the 5th to 18th October 2020.

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