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My Brother The Devil - 2012

I am not one easily lured by films that deal with gangs and certainly not with gang violence, but something of the manner in which the concrete and convenience store topography had been shot in the trailer of this motion picture made me watch the film and I came away pleasantly surprised with the bold, brisk and volatile debut of director Sally El Hosaini, who artistically depicts the nearly forced by the circumstances mellowing of the two British-born Arab brothers living in East London’s Hackney, a most ethnically mixed and precarious area. Rashid (John Floyd) and Mo (Fady Elsayed) are kids of a hardworking Egyptian bus driver who is caught up with making ends meet to keep the family afloat. In the absence of the father, the handsome and charming Rashid is the anchor of the family. Quite like architecture where a focal point is warranted to bring the best out of it, we all need a focal point in our lives as well, and that focal point of strength could be a father, mother, sibling or mentor: in this case it is Rashid that Mo admires and desires to ardently follow in his footsteps. While Rashid envisions a different life for his younger brother from the uncertainty of life that is very much the lifeline of the gang laws, and wants him instead to pursue his studies, Mo is but inadvertently drawn into the very life his brother wants him to be away from. Time moves along with its trials and tribulations until Rashid befriends an older photographer (Saïd Taghmaoui) whom Mo is not particularly fond of and begins keeping an eye on the person who is so used to keeping an eye on him. This is a shade in the character I found rather touching because that is how life is, isn’t it? If any of us falter or fail, the person who has been quietly admiring us for who we are takes over our place without a murmur making certain that things ought to get to where they are probably intended. 

The harsh reality of the turbulent years of growing up has been portrayed rather eloquently with all the nuances of faith, politics, love, attachment and camaraderie in sometimes uneven, and sometimes stable proportion. Despite the worry and the envy, and the marked difference of each other’s beliefs, there is still an unspoken, yet undying love they feel for each other, which is the hallmark of this movie just as it is the hallmark of any good relationship.

The cinematography by David Raedeker is realistic and yet seductively poetic in conjunction with the melody of Stuart Earl. The distinctions of the relationships and the intertwining of their values are quite like wine that one needs to roll on ones tongue in order to experience the right nature of its delicacy. Despite the underlying tension to the film there is likewise a certain element of freshness to it. The doom of death is more than apparent every so often and yet the characters have been so finely etched that it is a bit tough to find fault in them even though they do tend to get impenetrable on occasion. The women are the pillars of strength to their men although they barely have much screen time since the story quite revolves around the two boys, and yet they are so beautifully responsible to keep them grounded: be it Mo and Rashid's mother, or Mo's girl whom he finds compatible not only as a friend but also as someone he eventually falls in love. That said, all of them, seem quite comfortable in following the decree that everything is in a state of flux to the last atom. 

The scene of the dog being killed and the guy who killed the dog paying for his impulsive reaction with his own life is downright cruel, evil and plain gory, but it is an undiluted metaphor to life. I found that to be a critical point of the film that emphasised that love doesn’t have to be limited only to human beings: anything that you love is worth living, dying and killing for.

What I found uncalled for was the homosexual twist in the tale. I reckon even without that tint the story would have done splendidly well. I fail to understand what the intent of the director was to portray a strong and responsible man like Rashid to be struggling with his sexuality. If she wanted to arrive at something of that nature she ought to have restrained from showing him making love to the woman at the beginning of the film and thrown in hints that the boy harboured same sex tendencies from its inception. And if it was only a stand that they were proposing to take, then they could have most easily shown Rashid helping a man who wanted to come out of the closet regardless of what anyone thought of him. In addition, I felt it showed the man (French photographer) who helped him in bad light as well. Not everyone who helps someone wants something out of those whom they help, and not sexual favours for certain. This was a nearly condescending angle to an otherwise spellbinding film.

Rashid and Mo share a rare and profound chemistry. At times you feel that you don’t even need words, their expressions seem to do a much better job. The only other motion picture I can equate with the intensity drawn by the characters in this film is A River Runs Through It. That and this, though poles apart in narration and structure, bind on one pertinent aspect of the psyche – human bonding.

At the end of the day, this movie is about life and death, about love and hate, about hurt and forgiveness, and yet it is an example of how each of us looks out for each other, perfect or not, because ultimately that is what we all do – look after one another in our own ways, and quietly.