Faith -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- Western Islam in several variations is examined in "Faith" ("Shahada") through the intertwined stories of three young German-born Muslims. A film school graduation project that landed in Berlin competition, written and directed by Burhan Qurbani, shows a promising new talent grappling with an over-written script and too many characters, none of whom come across as real people viewers can care about. Another problem is the somber open-ended finale which leaves too much open to interpretation to satisfy most audiences.

Still, the effort to communicate is there and it's a relief to find the subject of religion treated, for once, without making the seemingly obligatory reference to terrorism, such as in Bruno Dumont's "Hadewijch," another recent tale of faith gone bad. Here, caught between their religious upbringing and the liberated lifestyle of the West, the young characters fixate on lines from the Quran to find an easy way out of their moral dilemmas.
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In some ways, the film itself takes the easy road out of the problems it poses, coming to facile, feel-good conclusions like, "Everyone decides how to live his faith," and "The Quran is a book of love that guides and consoles us, but can't tell us what to feel." This approach may create maximum consensus with audiences, but does not a deep film make.

"Faith" is structured in chapters with mythic Arabic/English titles like "Beginning of the Journey," "Sacrifice" and "Self-Sacrifice," which portend intriguing things to come, but unfold more banally as a series of dangerous sexual liaisons.

The most significant of the stories belongs to Maryam (Maryam Zaree). The German-born daughter of a tolerant, kindly local Imam, she first appears as a rebellious nightclubber out on the town with her girlfriend. Barely minutes later, she's having a deliberately provoked abortion in the disco toilet. The sight of the fetus so shocks her that she turns into a half-mad bigot who upsets the entire community with her raving desire for God's punishment.

The growing attraction between Sammi (Jeremias Acheampong), a young Muslim believer, and Daniel (Sergej Moya), who works in the same packing plant, throws Sammi into a wrenching inner struggle with his homosexual desires, which are forbidden in the Quran.

Ismail (Carlo Ljubek) is a cop racked with guilt over the accidental shooting of a pregnant woman, who lost her unborn child as a result. When he bumps into her again, Leyla (Marija Skaricic) so inflames his imagination that he leaves his wife and son for her. The story is utterly improbable but the two handsome, brooding young actors raise the temperature a few notches.

Blending urban cityscapes with subtle Orientalisms, the visuals have a very distinctive look. Yoshi Heimrath's cinematography is evocative throughout, from the endless warehouse to the humblest dwellings.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival -- In Competition

Production company: Bittersuess Pictures
Cast: Maryam Zaree, Jeremias Acheampong, Carlo Ljubek, Marija Skaricic; Sergej Moya, Vedat Erincin, Anne Ratte-Polle, Nora Abdel-Maksoud, Burak Yigit, Yollette Thomas
Director: Burhan Qurbani
Screenwriter: Burhan Qurbani, Ole Giec
Producers: Leif Alexis, Susa Kusche, Uwe Spiller, Robert Gold
Director of photography: Yoshi Heimrath
Production designer: Barbara Falkner
Music: Daniel Sus
Costumes: Irene Ip
Editor: Simon Blasi
Sales Agent: Memento Films International
No rating, 90 minutes
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