LOVE THAT DEFIES the sometimes dogmatic grip of convention is taken under the rich loupe of the judginess of adult children, a community’s collective sweet tooth for juicy gossip, and a writer’s ability to navigate tradition with levity. This is what you can expect in Barakat, Amy Jephta’s recent film, which released on Showmax in May.
It takes a very intimate understanding of the generalities and specifics of a small religious community in the bigger tapestry of contemporary South Africa, to be able to weave a yarn about blessings that will make you laugh and cry whether or not you subscribe to that community’s values. Jephta has earned her stripes as a writer and director of stories which reach to the smouldering heart of South Africa’s so-called coloured people. In Barakat, she considers issues of love, life and misunderstanding through a Muslim lens.
Armed with a sterling cast that includes the inimitable Vinette Ebrahim, Leslie Fong, Joey Rasdien and Mortimer Williams, to name but a few of our local luminaries, Barakat is a work that yields an understanding of universal values that never skids into cliché, and one which will have you laughing and sometimes weeping out loud.
And it is here, in a thoroughly religious suburb of the Western Cape that we meet Aisha (Ebrahim). She’s a widow and as her bosom buddy and the community’s local ‘yenta’ (or one of them) Fadielah (June van Merch) is quick to remind her, not in her first flush of youth. In fact, more likely in one of her many flushes of menopause.
Her lack of youth comes under critical scrutiny from across her community, which extends to her four adult sons, some of whom are skirting Muslim law and expectations to find their own happiness. And why? Because of matters of the heart. Aisha has found herself deeply in love. And her ‘boys’ are objectionable to this marriage. It takes a family gathering over the year’s holiest holy days to break address the elephant in Aisha’s heart.
Barakat, which means ‘blessings’ in Arabic, offers a bittersweet and utterly relatable tale of sibling issues, complicated love and the need to tell the truth, however grisly it feels. Whether you are Muslim or Jewish, a product of a rigorously Christian background or one determined by Hindu values, or that of any other religion for that matter, you know where the cards get to fall. Jephta’s script describes the loopholes and layers of permissiveness and the forbidden, for a religiously raised individual who is simply trying to be in the world.
Aside from the delicious timing and articulation of van Merch’s lines, there is a completely unmissable series of vignettes by Omar Adams in the role of Boeta Maan, and an understanding of South African light and triggers to complicated roots by the work’s cinematographic team that will tickle your nostalgia glands beautifully.
Barakat is very far from a series of hilarious one-liners about Muslim life, even though its cast boasts some of the best in the country’s field of stand-up comedy. On so many levels, resonant with the Netflix blockbuster series Shtisel, directed by Alon Zingman, the work is truly reflective of difficult and sometimes controversial nuance in a religious fold. With theatrical heavy weights of the ilk of Quanita Adams, and balanced by a superb script, the work is a magnificent, poetic and wise classic in terms of how it blends love with community.
- Barakat is directed and written by Amy Jephta and features a cast headed by Abduragman Adams, Loukman Adams, Omar Adams, Quanita Adams, Kim Adonis, Madeegah Anders, Carlo Daniels, Shihaam Domingo, Vinette Ebrahim, Bianca Flanders, Leslie Fong, Lisa Gombard, Keeno-Lee Hector, River Hoffmeester, Mueed Jacobs, Yaseen Leonard, Carmen Maarman, Bonnie Mbuli, Mateo Olivier, Maurice Paige, Imam Yusif Pandy, Ashur Petersen, Joey Rasdien, Danny Ross, Sky Simons, Farouk Valley-Omar, June van Merch and Mortimer Williams. In Afrikaans and Arabic with English subtitles, it is produced by Ephraim Gordon and features creative input by Kyle Shepherd (music), Ebrahim Hajee (cinematography), Sanjin Muftic (editing) and Ayesha Khatieb (costume design). Release date on Showmax: 6 May 2022.