Monday, October 26, 2020

NewFest Spotlight: Breaking Fast

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from the 32nd Annual New York LGBTQ+ Film Festival, NewFest. The festival runs October 16th-27th, 2020, and films are available to watch anywhere in the United States during that time.

Breaking Fast
Directed by Mike Mosallam
Ticket Information

Films about religion tend to find characters struggling with their adherence to faith and eventually running in the other direction. Love is often a complicating factor, one that causes a reevaluation of priorities and may invite a new outlook that involves less fidelity and more exceptions to what before was standard practice. It’s refreshing, therefore, to find a comedy about a gay Muslim that doesn’t take any cheap shots and in fact features a protagonist so firmly committed to tradition that he is blinded to the experiences of others around him who don’t want to change who he is but only how he makes room for them.

Mo (Haaz Sleiman), who has always enjoyed broad support from his mother since he told her he was gay, sees his relationship with Hassan (Patrick Sabongui) end when Hassan refuses to come out to his family. He is unprepared for a new entry into his life in the form of Kal (Michael Cassidy), who, despite not being Muslim or Arab, grew up on an army base in Jordan and has recipes just as delicious as his own family’s for Middle Eastern dishes. Because it is Ramadan, the month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, Kal offers to join Mo each night to break fast. As the two become closer, Mo is eager to learn more about the new man in his life who is always warm but rarely talks about himself.

This film features many humorous references to Mo’s experience as the son of an overbearing mother, including her assertion that she wants him to find a nice man who will somehow give her the perfect grandchildren that she believes his brother’s white American wife hasn’t. Mo’s outlook is starkest when contrasted with his best friend Sam (Amin El Gamal), who hasn’t had the same positive experience with his Muslim family accepting his sexual orientation. Mo’s tendency to “bright-side” everything, as Kal puts it, is what threatens the stability of their relationship, not anything to do with the fact that he is a religious Muslim.

This is a very appealing film, one that avoids immature or reductive jokes and instead presents Mo as a man who is equally devout and awkward, unsure of how to navigate a romance in which his prospective partner is so unambiguously interested in him. Sleiman, a familiar face from “The Visitor,” is wonderful, as is Cassidy, politer in this role than he’s ever been in television series like “People of Earth” and “Hidden Palms.” Gamal is also great, affirming this as a story just as much about friendship as it is romance. It’s great to see a film that doesn’t put characters into forced situations where sex is the only way to define a relationship and that feels true to people who are authentically and, for the most part, unapologetically themselves.


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