While jarring at first, Barakah Meets Barakah doesn’t waste time gently ushering you into a culture miles from our western sensibilities. Instead it cracks right on, putting a unique perspective to good use to tell a thoughtful and sweet story, with big laughs where you’d least expect them. Bolstered by two knockout performances, this Saudi gem is a sweet and stirring success for debut filmmaker Mahmoud Sabbagh.
Any film fan would tell you that a rom-com lives and dies with its lead couple – and Barakah Meets Barakah’s charming stars make for quite the pair. Hisham Fageeh finds the grit behind the grin as Barakah, a beleaguered civil servant on the wrong side of progress. His optimistic brand of melancholy perfectly counters the tenacity of firebrand Bibi, Instagram star and defiant voice of the future. Fatima Al-Banawi is definitely one to watch – she’s a force of nature as Bibi, pairing righteous indignation with authentic vulnerability in the face of societal oppression.
Al-Banawi and Fageeh have great chemistry together – although Barakah Meets Barakah is as much about their individual stories as it is about their meet-cute, and Sabbagh’s witty and satirical script juggles all three storylines with aplomb. That said, while all are engaging and insightful glimpses behind the curtain at a country rarely put to film, Barakah’s adventures performing in a local production of Hamlet are definitely a highlight – Fageeh makes for a spellbinding Ophelia.
Barakah uses its unique setup – how many Saudi rom-coms have you seen? – and runs with it, delivering an original and creative story that doesn’t shy away from the massive cultural shifts going on behind the scenes. A must-see for all fans of the genre.
CAST: Hisham Fageeh, Fatima Al-Banawi, Sami Hifny, Khairia Nazmi
DIRECTOR: Mahmoud Sabbagh
WRITER: Mahmoud Sabbagh
SYNOPSIS: A humble government official and a rebellious vlog star develop a tentative romance amid strict Saudi Arabian cultural taboos in this warm-hearted, slyly subversive romantic comedy. Sabbagh pinpoints the challenge of finding love in a land with smartphones and social media, yet still governed by cultural restrictions, where unchaperoned liaisons and public physical contact are still strictly forbidden.