Perhaps not as funny or as slick as the current film phenomenon, The Big Sick, MAHBAS, casts a probing eye on carcinogenic parental prejudices that cause impediments to impending intended unions of their offspring.
While both studying in Dubai, Lebanese lass, Ghada and son of Syria, Samer, fall in love and plan matrimony. Ghada’s dad, Maurice, has no trouble giving his blessing but baulks at telling his wife, Therese, knowing her systematic hatred for Syrians will null the nuptials.
Twenty years ago, Therese’s brother was killed by a Syrian bomb and ever since she has borne a bias against all things Syrian.
Dad has the fervent but foolish belief that an ambush meeting between the intended in laws will bring Therese to her senses, especially as the stakes are her only child’s happiness.
And so the scene is set for some some sprightly, spiteful conflict, with Therese going into seat of the pants sabotage mode in an attempt to rent the couple asunder.
Apart from being a study in racial or cultural tensions, MAHBAS can be read as a meditation of marriage, the sterility of the unions of both parents in contrast to the couple eagerly anticipating their own embarkation into the deadlock of wedlock.
Maurice is busily shagging his secretary, excused by Therese’s devotion to her martyred brother. Samer’s dad is gregarious whereas his mum is the opposite. She harbours an idea that all Lebanese girls are sluts.
It is interesting to note that both mothers perceive their prospective son in law/daughter in law as unsuitable, whereas the father’s are both happy for the match to take place.
Sophie Boutros‘ film has a slow burn beginning where drama takes the ascent before the descent into comedy leavens the mood. However, just before it free falls into farce, the fractious facts of foibled humans ferment and foam in a brew that is true, sobering and bitter sweet.
MAHBAS is anchored by a sterling performance by Julia Kassar as Therese, conniving, manipulating, furious and flawed. Her counterpoint is delightfully played by Betty Taoutel, as her daffy neighbour, Solange, a scene stealer at every stage.
A screening of MAHBAS will launch the 14th annual Arab Film Festival Australia at the opening night party in Sydney, held at Riverside Theatres Parramatta, Thursday 17 August with director Sophie Boutros in attendance.