Ali’s Wedding, winner of the Audience Award at the Sydney Film Festival, is a truly original movie that deserves to become another Aussie classic. An iconic experience, much like Muriel, Priscilla, Dundee, The Dish and The Castle. It is intelligently told through a great script that has just the right mixture of drama, comedy and romance with an odd cliché or two thrown in.
In multi-cultural Australia today if we wish to create, co-operate and collaborate with others effectively, so we can have the best chance possible to show respect and regard for each other, we need to understand each other’s stories. When they are as captivating as this, then we are all in with more than half a chance.
Ali’s Wedding is all about the real life experiences of Osamah Sami, a young good looking Iraqi refugee, who arrived in Australia as a young boy with his family who fled their homeland and spent several years in Iran. The title card at the beginning informs the viewer it’s “a true story.
Writer and comedian Osamah Sami (Saved, TV’s Jack Irish) plays Ali and he wrote the screenplay for Ali’s Wedding with great affection along with renowned writer Andrew Knight (Hacksaw Ridge, The Water Diviner).
Ali’s Wedding is a story about an Australian family, about duty, daily life and love. It crosses both cultural and religious divides brilliantly. Any cultural tension that exists is within his Muslim community – except for a few mates, other Aussies rarely come into the equation. We don’t want to add too many spoilers here, but please know a few follow.
All that Ali wants to do is to make his Dad proud. How normal is that. However it’s going to be harder than he thinks. Ali’s parents have always expected their eldest son would become a Doctor, able to support their family as is expected of the senior son.
The difficulty for Ali is he wasn’t born the eldest. Sadly his brother, who had the ability to fulfil his parent’s dreams, tragically stepped on a land mine and was killed as Ali was to enter his teenage years and so the mantle of being the eldest weighs heavily on his shoulders.
Migrating with his family to Australia Ali’s Dad, Mahdi (Don Hany) holds the position of Imam (leader) at the local Mosque in Melbourne where everyone is in awe of his wisdom. He is much loved and revered by most of the community of men, who flock happily to listen to his story telling.
Women and wives rarely come into the equation at prayer time sitting as is the custom at the Mosque outside the main worship space filled with men behind a screen where they can hear what is happening, including sometimes being talked about in the third person. Otherwise they stay at home to pray.
Trying to live up to the judgment of others or their ‘great expectations’ within his own culture, let alone the wider Australian community, can seem on some days an impossible task for Ali.
This is true whether you are an indigenous Australian, a fourth generation English or European descendant Aussie, or a first generation member of a family from another culture who has migrated down under hoping to find the sorts of democratic freedom and easy living their ancestors only dreamed of enjoying.
Ali like everyone else finds he has a big task ahead of him if he is to become known as the successful son of a father who plays an important role in the ongoing development of his culture and their day to day community life.
Mahdi is a big role model to live up to. Entirely entertaining, an affable statesman like leader, he delivers pertinent parables from his high chair. He also writes and produces them as plays to illustrate and teach a truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.
A highlight of the movie is Mahdi’s marvellous ‘musical’ production about the death of ‘Saddam Hussein’, which is invited to tour in America with hilarious results.
Members of the community outside Mosque hours visit Mahdi to share their problems so he and his family do their best to help them through. Ali’s family all love living in Melbourne, after all it has again been voted the most liveable city in the world for the seventh time recently.
Big supporters of the AFL (Australian Football League) particularly the local ‘bombers’, they love cricket too and basically every sport that requires great physicality.
Ali’s Mum becomes so excited when an AFL game is on television, she cheers and shouts at the top of her voice. She wants what all women want, the best in life for her children.
Ali finds himself falling in love with the lovely Dianne (Helana Sawires) a kind and generous girl from Egypt, who is treated like an outsider by his own close-knit Muslim community at the local Mosque.
Overcoming prejudice jealousy and bigotry in every culture is an ongoing challenge, and attitude is really everything. Changing centuries old traditions is very hard, especially when you are in a young country by world standards, whose people have not experienced them and do not understand. Appreciating that point is also hard.
Dianne and Ali meet while studying to attain the marks needed to go to Melbourne University and become a Doctor. In their entrance examination Dianne passes brilliantly gaining the highest marks in the community, more than the son of the aspiring Imam who boasts about his son’s high score at the Mosque in front of all the men.
However being a woman while mentioned briefly, Dianne is not offered the award or any applause.
Ali’s rival has received 96.2 in the exam and while the whole truth and nothing but the truth is what Ali’s parents expect from their children, Ali put on the spot in front of his whole community tells a ‘white lie’ – he has received 96.4, instead of his actual mark of 68.5.
Telling lies to your family not to hurt one or more feelings is universal and we all can feel Ali’s pain, especially as the lie begins to grow. Ali quickly finds himself becoming completely tied up in knots going forward and as his father has warned him, Ali knows ‘a lie begins in the soul and then travels the world’.
Sometimes a tractor is involved.
Ali decides to try and keep the whole thing going and that he will just go along to university, sit in on all the classes, and hope that no one notices him there or that he’s not enrolled. If he can do that for one year he is hopeful he can sit the exams again and pass. It’s optimistic at best, not a plan that can really work in practicality, but he decides to give it a go.
In the meantime Dianne’s father who runs the local fish and chipper has decided not to let her study medicine, knowing it’s the first step to her becoming an independent woman, which goes against the grain of his conscience or the idea of exposing his daughter to the risky behaviour of others outside their faith and culture he cannot control.
Ali visits him and convinces him to let her try and that he will go with her every day and watch over her and so her father relents, knowing Ali for the good young man he is.
Not liking this turn of affairs, Ali’s mother convinces his father to engage Ali to Yomna (Maha Wilson), as is the custom, a woman of their choice from the community not his. He agrees not to offend them either and when he sugars and stirs his tea at the wrong time in a pre engagement tea ceremony, chaos ensues.
Ali is both distressed and disturbed at the dilemma he finds himself in, as he has always trusted God to help him to sort through his feelings and to help him along the pathway to knowledge and happiness. He would like that to happen preferably with the woman he loves, despite him believing it to be impossible.
Ali’s Wedding is a superbly nuanced and beautifully written Australian drama, with just the right amount of comedic touches, while telling a tortuous tale about the vagaries of the human condition, one easy to relate to.
Go along and enjoy the madness, mayhem and marvellous togetherness enjoyed by Ali’s family and their friends in community, as they work through all their inadequacies as human beings, learn to understand what humility and divine love, which makes repentance and forgiveness possible, really means.
The acting is wonderful in Ali’s Wedding, the script spot on and the scenery and situations superbly filmed and directed with Melbourne acting as an appealing backdrop. I loved Ali’s Wedding and perhaps it’s a miracle when his life in Australia can work out for the best. Who can say with certainty.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Ali’s Wedding – Watch the Trailer