I met Amina Zhaman during a party, and she was kind enough to invite me to a private screening of her new feature film “Right to Love“. I had already heard a few words about the film from a couple of friends who starred in it, but I was never clear as to what it was about. I am glad that I decided to check it out.
The film was a sweet romantic drama (if such a thing makes sense). I don’t want to spoil it for the real viewers. What I will say is that it was entertaining and it did remind me of a type of dating that is sort of forgotten now, slow, sweet and naturally occurring.
The film touches upon a sensitive subject, the love between a Muslim and a Catholic. What to do in such a case? Where to pray? Who converts to what? How will the families react? Is love enough to conquer all?
The film is directed and edited by Paul Kurti Kurti, an Alb-American filmmaker, and stars a mixed cast of different ethnicities (and religions) in it.
I felt that Amina (she wrote, starred in and sang the soundtrack for the film) did give answers in her own unique style. The film gives a different glimpse of the devout Muslim woman than the one which normally springs to mind: “Covered head to toe with a heavy burqa and constrained to the point of bigotry.” Instead, the heroine is a beautiful and well learned girl who comes to the big city to follow her dreams and succeeds in her own way, without compromising her religion or her principles.
The film is also a crash course for those who are interested to know something about Circassian and Albanian cultures without bothering with Google or Wikipedia. I liked the way the cultures were portrayed, but I just might add that religion to Albanians is sort of not as important as Albania. (Catholics and Muslims marry all the time and have healthy rambunctious if somewhat confused kids who celebrate both Eid and Christmas and generally don’t like pork)
Shpend Xani is the male lead opposite Amina. A better version of Zachary Quinto, he makes for the perfect lead with just the right amount of sinister and sex appeal. (Or maybe I just have a thing for tall dark and handsome). I have known Shpend for a while but I had never seen him perform, so the film was a pleasant surprise. I just wish there was a bit more drama to make use of the darkness and intensity within him. I think he will be formidable in the future.
I was very grateful to see Pavlina Mani act again. She sort of stole the show from everybody else. An intense, quiet but authoritative matriarch, she portrayed an Albanian mother with the perfect drama and stubbornness mix to make it believable (and a bit tearful to tell you the truth).
Other names, all friends starred and did a great job in the film, from Luan Bexheti, the villain who I would have loved to have seen throughout the film, Praq Rado, a very talented actor in the up and up, Bukurije Navon as the conniving sister who only appreciates money, and Ari Myrtaj who I love in every piece I see him in. More Ari please!
I did not know I was a friend of celebrities. Yay!
But enough gushing. Keeping in mind that it was a very low budget independent production, the film certainly had its own share of deficiencies. Personally, I could have done without some of the quotes from theater and such because it gave everything a didactic tone, and it slowed the rhythm of the story. I felt that there was too much preaching (after all this is New York).
The story required a stronger editing. Some parts could have been better if condensed or treated with a stricter hand.
I had some trouble with the makeup. Sometimes lighter is better. After all the female lead is supposed to be a simple and liberated girl, and makeup to me represents aggressiveness and preparation for war .
However, I do believe that the film will do well and will be liked in Europe. It is a crowd pleaser. It is a more professional effort than the other ones I have seen lately. It does open the conversation for more discussion (even though it is far from all thought provoking and shocking drama usually shoved down our throats as truly groundbreaking). And it is charming, just like Amina, its star.
I look forward to hearing more about it.