Oftentimes, queer films tend to ignore other aspects of an individual’s personality, and focuses only on the queerness. However, that is not the case with ‘Breaking Fast’, a romantic-comedy written and directed by Mike Mosallam. The film from the set-go tries to deconstruct the notion of how queerness isn’t intrinsic to how one navigates through the path of faith. It tries to show multiple and varied views on how the queer community looks at religion and how one’s own experience shapes their relationship with religion. At the outset, the film has a very simple story, like that of any hetero-normative rom-com, the protagonist has a break up, and finds love in another person by the end, but it is interesting as to how the intimate and intricate details of relationship, faith and family have been explored through a run-of-the-mill love story.
The story follows Mo (Haaz Sleiman) a queer Muslim man who is in a happy and stable relationship with Hassan (Patrick Sabongui). We meet them on an eve of Iftaar during the month of Ramadan, when Mo’s family is visiting the two of them. Mo’s family is ‘unbelievably’ inclusive and ensures that the two feel part of the religious ritual. However, Hassan’s family is not the same and some incidents later, they break up. The film shifts focus to next year, during the same Ramadan month, when we meet Mo, as a single man, trying to cope with the break up. Few parties and conversations later, Mo meets Kal (Michael Cassidy), an all-American man who wants to spend Iftaar time and break the fast with Mo. Mo is pleasantly surprised by the gesture and slowly opens his heart despite the hang-up over Hassan. I will not spoil the film by giving the reader any more details, because you need to see the film to understand how this run-of-the-mill story can be any different from the films in its genre.
If you go to the film’s IMDB page and see the reviews there, you would know why this film is needed. It attacks on two prejudices of people: Islamophobia and Homophobia. Most of the reviews have nothing to do with the film. It only tries to attack how queerness can be attached to Islam, and how a film can depict a queer man who is devoutly religious. The film hits the right note and tries to demystify this issue surrounding Islam and queerness. It provides multiple instances where varied and opposing views on the same have been presented. Mo, a devoutly Islamic man, defends his sexuality and faith over and over in front of people and justifies that Quran doesn’t mention any punishment for homosexuality and that it is an import of the Britishers and the ruling regimes of the Islamic nations. However, Sam (Amin El Gamal) presents an opposing view and narrates his experience of how Islam has always been an antithesis to queerness. He cites examples from his experience and notes how in Islamic countries people are killed every day for the way they are born. In that way, the film doesn’t sound preachy, because it isn’t monolithic in its message. It tries to give voices to both the sides, and lets the audience decide, because every person’s experience would decide their view of religion. The film manages to show a balanced view of how queer Muslim individuals navigate through the intersections of their identities.
Another important aspect of the film is how supportive Mo’s family is of his identity and how it shapes his journey towards faith and relationships. He keeps comparing his family to the families of men in his life, and tries to contextualize their experience through his own, oftentimes to his disappointment. Mo’s family is a rare but real instance of how religiously devout families can be accepting and inclusive of queerness. They are an eccentric lot, with all the bickering and warmth that comes with the concept of hetero-normative families. It is interesting to note that the film explores how the relationship with family can affect romantic relationships. Mo keeps trying to make his partners realize that they should be amicable to their respective families, because his experience of family is all positive. But, he fails to realize that not every experience is the same, and as we see with one of the character’s experience when he comes out, his family makes their distance from him. It is only towards the end that Mo realizes that he cannot live others’ lives through his experiences and starts seeing things for what they are.
The film has a lot of light moments, especially through Sam’s character, who plays the stereotypical best friend of the lead. However, even while playing out this stereotype, Sam’s character is well-evolved and hence, enjoyable. Another comic factor comes in during the intimate conversations between Mo and Kal. Mo who is observing fast has to abstain for any impure, sexual or dirty thoughts, but Kal makes conceited efforts and jokes around about things which make Mo uncomfortable since it leads him to think about things he would not during the fast. These comic moments are the life of the film as it brings sensitivity even while portraying rituals. The film also manages to shed light on the intimate details of Islamic rituals, for example, the film is based solely during the time of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and break their fasts in the evening. In a comic yet dramatic scene, Sam invites over an American man to Mo’s house for Iftaar, however, the man starts eating even before it is time to break the fast and is stopped by another American, Kal, who teaches him the lesson on Ramadan.
The film is helmed by Mike Mossalam in the most tender and sensitive way. He deals with every aspect of the film to the details, and ensures that a generic rom-com breaks the boundaries of its genre and shifts the narrative to topics that need attention. He is successful in telling a simple, run-of-the-mill story in the most exciting and engaging way. The lead actors, especially, Haaz and Michael, make for believable characters. Haaz as Mo is a grounded, sensible, mature and sensitive practicing Muslim queer doctor who tries to make sense of life after break up, while Michael as Kal, an actor balances it with his humor, lighthearted nature and vulnerable personality. Mo’s stubbornness is balanced by Kal’s patience; Kal’s vulnerability is balanced by Mo’s strength and will.
The film intersperses generic elements of rom-com while also providing a strong message. It has the typical feel-good factor; however, it also makes the audience question and reconsider their views on faith and sexuality. It talks about important issues especially regarding Islam and queerness but never becomes preachy. It brings about the importance of family support and love for queer people, and yet never overdoes it. It tries to keep things as real as possible while trying to send out a message about inclusivity. It makes you believe that a person’s intersectional identity can be navigated through and a resolution can be achieved when conversations surrounding it are healthy. ‘Breaking Fast’ makes way for cross-cultural and inter-religious love in a world of rising monolithic cultural predominance.