Polari (aGLIFF) 2012
By Don Simpson | October 11, 2012
Director: Sally El Hosaini
Writer: Sally El Hosaini
Starring: James Floyd, Fady Elsayed, Saïd Taghmaoui, Aymen Hamdouchi, Ashley Bashy Thomas, Anthony Welsh, Arnold Oceng, Letitia Wright, Amira Ghazalla, Elarica Gallacher, Nasser Memarzia
In discussing Queer Cinema, it is difficult to avoid discussion of the “other.” Based upon culture and sexual orientation, the LGBTQ community has traditionally been classified as different because they deviate from the so-called societal norm. But what exactly is “normal”? Why is that — meaning heterosexuality — normal? More importantly, who controls the definitions of what constitutes “others”? In her debut feature My Brother the Devil, writer-director Sally El Hosaini deftly takes on two types of “others,” developing a narrative that portrays them outside of their stereotypical constructs.
The first type of “other” is the Muslim. Rashid (James Floyd) and his little brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) have been raised in a traditional, working class, Egyptian household on a housing estate in a rough and tumble London hood. While religion does not appear to be influential in their daily lives, Rashid and Mo are inherently Muslim; it seems as though most of the inhabitants of this multi-ethnic corner of London are Muslims as well.
Rashid is a boxer who earns money by doing “road” work — dealing drugs — for a neighborhood gang. Mo idolizes Rashid and wants to follow in his footsteps, but it is important to Rashid that Mo steer clear of his dangerous lifestyle. Rashid wants nothing more than for Mo to do well in school, proceed to a university and establish a legitimate career. In other words, Rashid hopes that his younger brother can break free of the invisible cage of the English caste system and become successful.
As Rashid’s “D-M-G” (Drugs, Money, Guns) lifestyle grows more and more threatening, he begins to search for an economic lifeboat. Rashid needs a real job but he lacks the required degree and experience. Then a close friendship with an affluent photographer, Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui), offers Rashid a lifeline. Sayyid represents the polar opposite of the world from which Rashid comes; he is intelligent, contemplative, peaceful and spiritual. While Rashid is attracted to the comfort and safety of Sayyid’s life, Mo and Rashid’s gang mates just cannot understand Rashid’s newly adopted bourgeois behavior.
My Brother the Devil breaks free of the confines of traditional gangland narratives, going far beyond a rudimentary discussion of fraternal (and familiar) bonds. El Hosaini intelligently discusses manhood and masculinity, comparing the persuasive power of violence with the convincing maturity of peace; economics, gender, sexuality, environmental conditioning and societal roles all come into play as well in this complex and contemplative narrative. It is also really nice to watch a film about a modern Muslim community in which terrorism is nothing more than just an evil specter.