Ruba Nadda’s 2005 film Sabah told the story of a family of Syrian immigrants living in Canada, who through the course of the film learn how to blend the old and the new despite tough challenges mixing distinctly different cultures entails. It was one of the sweetest films I’ve seen in years.
Sabah, (Arsinee Khanjian) is the eldest daughter and is responsible for her taking care of her ailing mother, a spritely woman who is hip to it all, despite everyone’s concern. She’s the one Sabah is afraid will find out about Steve. With their father gone, it falls to Majid the eldest son to keep order and enforce the codes of Islam, he’s enraged that his sister would go against him. …He makes sure nobody goes out without headscarfs or dates non-muslim men.
We watch as younger daughter Souhaire, played with a joyful insouciance by the wonderful Fadia Nadda, dances to the sensual rhythms of Arab music, with joy and abandon, hair uncovered and eyes provocative. Inside the house, of course, this kind of sexiness is fine, among family. Later we see how incredibly sexy it can be when a headscarfed woman slowly yet surely lets down her veil and opens up to her agnostic lover.
But when the young sister is told she must marry a young man picked out by her brother Majid, she feigns super piousness and dresses the part of the strict muslim woman, turning the young suitor Mustafa off. This displeases the family yet the conspiracy was planned by Sabah, so she was in hot water too. Yet she was in for worse, when she stays the night with a man she met at the swimming pool who is decidedly the wrong type, and so wrong she fears her family will find out.
But Steve’s a patient and devoted suitor, ok with the chaste double kisses on the cheek, and we can see that things won’t be this way for long. Finally, Sabah forces her brother to acknowledge the fact that they’re no longer in Syria and as her mother sips tea with Steve, we know that things will get better.