What to say first? That Ali’s Wedding is entertaining or that Ali’s Wedding is topical? For Australian audience – especially those who live in Melbourne – it is very entertaining. For Australian audiences everywhere it is very topical.
This is the story, a true story – as the advertising tagline says, ‘unfortunately’ – of a family who came from Iraq, were ousted at the time of Saddam Hussein, took refuge in Iran but eventually migrated to Australia, arriving in Melbourne and settling with the Muslim community in the inner northern suburbs of the city. In case anyone was wondering about the truth of the story, there are many photos before the final credits of the actual characters on whom the story is based.
At the centre of the story is Ali, played quite engagingly by actor and comedian, Osama Sami, who also collaborated with highly-awarded Australian writer, Andrew Knight, on the screenplay.
The tone is set instantly – an open paddock outside Melbourne, a tractor coming over the hill, Ali in wedding clothes frantically driving the tractor and then the police in pursuit.
In reality, most Australians have very little idea about migrants, refugees, asylum seekers from the Middle East. There have been a number of powerful documentaries about the plight of boat people sent to Manus Island and Nauru and the conditions they have experienced there and the stances of Australian politicians and public opinion.
But, what about day-to-day living in Melbourne? The older generation, in this case father and mother, with Don Hany impressive as the father, leader of those who gather at the local mosque (men in one part, women in the other) who pray, discuss, and put on plays. Values from original countries are preserved. Yet, the importance of multicultural interactions in Australia are highlighted. And, of course, this is especially true of the younger generation – Aussie clothes, Aussie accents and Ocker language.
One of the main themes of the film is actually truth and lies. Ali walks in the shadow of his reputable father and the expectations of his mother, and memories of his older brother who gave his life to save Ali when he stepped on a mine back home. It takes only one small lie and the consequences are enormous. Ali claims that he got into medicine at Melbourne University with a very high mark, better than the proper son of the very proper alternative religious leader at the mosque. But he does give credit to the highest mark obtained by Diane, originally from Lebanon, working in her father’s takeaway shop. And Ali is infatuated, awkwardly visiting the shop to make contact.
So, some adventures at Melbourne University when Ali attends, despite his mark, and gets tangled in lectures and tutorials – rescued from one by his eager mother and her friends who have wedding plans well in hand. Ali is unwilling. He dreams of Diane. What he gets advice from his friends about how to deal with the tea ceremony and the betrothal, he is so eager that he gets it wrong, everyone initially aghast, but the prospective father-in-law delighted that Ali seems so eager. The wedding of the title, therefore, is that between Ali and his betrothed.
Not that a lot of drama does not happen in the meantime, Ali exposed, humiliated, the interesting way in which the community treats him (surprisingly forgiving), but Diane…
And so, we are back at Ali on the tractor and what has happened at the wedding.
Some audiences might feel a bit apprehensive about the broadly drawn characters and dialogue, fearful that this might be something of a putdown. But, the spirit is so exuberant, inviting the broad audience to share in the satiric touches, the spoof, the funny situations, even the cultural customs and the overdoing of them, that most audiences will be satisfyingly entertained and horizons opened towards Muslims just that bit more widely. Of course, getting to know people makes all the difference.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting