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Film review: Arifa Who knew awkwardness could be so appealing?

The thing about Arifa is, you have to watch it. The trouble is at the moment, unless you caught the one-off East London Film Festival screening earlier this week, chances are slimmer than slim because this indie Brit flick debut by Pakistani filmmaker Sadia Saeed is still looking for a distributor. So for now, just take my word for it and earmark the name, because it’s one you need to remember.

I watched the film two days ago and I’m still in awe of how clever it was. The intelligence lies in its simplicity. Arifa is storytelling at its finest and the thread that pulls it together is the well-formed characters. It’s not the chain of events, flash locations, gorgeous costumes or any of the other usual suspects that gets a film noticed; it’s the human interactions, desires, flaws, the realisation that even the most normal of lives is actually completely fascinating, that makes Arifa such a pleasure to watch.

Our heroine Arifa, a 28-year-old Londoner who works in insurance by day and is penning her first novel by night has all the traits of an average girl next door. Nothing out of the ordinary happens to her. She meets a man she’s attracted to, falls out with her bestie and her family and even has a crush on her boss – that’s the crux of the plot, but it’s her sincerity and honesty that makes her story so interesting when on paper it shouldn’t be this engaging.

The appeal in Arifa also lies in its script: funny, dark, awkward, unexpected, random; which enhances the comedy. Generally speaking (and I’m not about to name names!) writers who are also directing can get carried away presenting stories that are self-indulgent…but Sadia’s approach to filmmaking is the opposite. She has written a faultless script and every line is delivered perfectly. In particular the conversations between Arifa and her Italian love interest Ricardo have an incredible warmth to them while the timing of their interactions make for a humorous watch. Similarly her father played by comedian Jeff Mirza epitomises the eccentricities that Pakistani men possess so well, because he delivers his absurd lines in such a serious manner.

The supporting cast is equally as impressive. Shazia Mirza plays the role of Arifa’s therapist in a really humorous but measured way while her boss, played by Rez Kempton manages to get our sympathy with his engaging sincerity even though he’s the cause of some of Arifa’s initial pains, we still like him. I also adored the soundtrack too. It’s this really gentle jazzy piano music and it just feels so right.

It almost felt like I was watching a film in 3D without the glasses on because I was taken through a complete 360 of each character, inside and out, which proves you don’t need flashy technology to feel fully immersed. If the story, characters and direction is good enough you’ll get an experience that you won’t forget. I hope this film comes out properly soon and Sadia shares more of her stories. Arifa was partially backed by a Kickstarter campaign and I would happily pay to see the filmmaker do more of what she was clearly born to do.

I watched the European premiere of Arifa, shown as part of The East London Film Festival 2017, at the Rich Mix Centre.

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