Not very often do we come across films that are specific about their causes and cultures. This particularity (which has numerous layers to it) makes director Mike Mosallam’s Breaking Fast a unique film to come by. The subject of the story Mo (a super-efficient Haaz Sleiman). He is Muslim and is gay. He is observing the holy fast of Ramadan. A believer, his views on Islam are somewhat rigid. He also carries unhealed wounds from his former relationship. Then he meets an affable Caucasian man named Kal (Michael Cassidy, an absolute snack).

Love wants to bloom, but it can’t. Mo wants to observe the holy month in all its piousness. That would mean a strict no to intimacy and sexual thoughts. It’s the onset of what could possibly be a magical love affair and one ponders what Mo’s religion’s specific opinion about homosexuality is. (This gets addressed later in the film) Mo and Kal make an effort to not let this chemistry evaporate. They meet up over platonic iftar dates (no pun intended). They cook, they rehearse dialogues from Kal’s plays, and they engage in mega talkathons.

At the epicenter of Breaking Fast is its intent to examine the leading man’s spirituality. How practical is he about the rituals he steadfastly follows? How flexible is he to meld with those around? Does he empathize with those who have suffered in the name of religion? Mosallam’s film offers points of view but seldom preaches as it is extremely straight-laced in the way the writers design Mo’s part. While his family is progressive about his sexuality, he has a history of his lover (a conservative Muslim) opting to marry a woman. He also strongly believes that the Muslims who are homophobic unlike him are victims of colonization.

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In this exceedingly quiet film, the contrast is provided by Mo’s best friend Sam (Amin El Gamal). Even though a Muslim, the flamboyant young man does not practice his religion by choice. In what must be the film’s most striking performance, Sam bares his soul out to Mo in a crucial scene in the pre-climax. The film tells us that experiences are different and one ought to be mindful of it before asserting rigid ideas. The above angle is also dissected through Kal’s subplot where it tells us about the unpleasant equation he shares with his family.

breaking fast Amin El Gamal

Breaking Fast treads a very fine line where it makes sure it does not flaunt islamophobia even by mistake. The confrontation scenes meaningfully function as heated discussions and the output of each is to contribute to the protagonist’s coming-of-age. Mosallam’s film does not mean to transform the leading man into an entirely different being. It helps Mo come out of his cocoon – to embrace love, happiness, and life in general. He nurtures empathy to understand his former lover’s vulnerability towards his cultural and familial roots.

Even though one of its leads happens to be a white man, it never develops a rescuer complex. Though the contexts differ, Karl is as needy as Mo. Breaking Fast packs in plenty of moments between the two but none of them are sexual in nature – which is refreshing. It only helps that Cassidy and Sleiman share a chemistry that is mesmerizing. I will also save an extra cookie for Cassidy’s unimaginably winsome smile.

Breaking Fast is also a food film. Staged amid iftars, the close-up shots of scrumptious Middle Eastern delicacies might have you reach out to the nearest Arabian restaurant. Need more reasons to give Mosallam’s film a dekko?

Rating: ★★★★

The film was screened at the 32nd Annual New York LGBTQ Film Festival.

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