The film Barakat is a love letter to an entire community.
Stalwart of South African screens Vinette Ebrahim plays Aisha Davids, a widow of two years who is preparing to tell her four sons she wants to remarry. Barakat plays out over the days before Eid-ul-Fitr, also affectionately known as Labarang in Cape Town. The opening scenes were surreal to me. I have lived in the area Barakat was shot in for most of my later childhood years, and still live here. I sat in awe seeing my childhood park and a famous tikka shop in the frames.
Aisha is apprehensive about the announcement, as her fiance is a non-Muslim man- Dr Albertus “Bertie” Meyer (Leslie Fong). Aisha and Bertie are so plausible as an older couple finding love again with each other; you really do believe their courtship and subsequent engagement.
Aisha’s idea is to get all her sons together for Labarang so as to soften the blow of the announcement.
Read more: Eid: How South African Muslims Celebrate
Zaid (Mortimer Williams) is the eldest brother, living in Joburg with his girlfriend Gwen (Bonnie Mbuli). He has a strained relationship with second-born Zunaid (Joey Rasdien), who is married to Raeesah; who played the gatvol wife expertly by Quanita Adams. The stand-out performance for me came from Keeno Lee Hector, who plays Yaseen. His character has middle-child syndrome so badly that Aisha even forgot to invite him to Labarang lunch. You get the sense he is questioning everything around him,and he even says it. But it stops there. I wish we got more of a sense of what he was going through. Nur (Danny Ross) is the last-born and stoutgat of the family; unemployed and always partying.
The problem with Barakat is that it doesn’t grab the opportunities it sets up. Gwen is a Black woman in a relationship with Zunaid, a Coloured Muslim man. This does not happen every day in Cape Town. If it does it is not without drama and fietna (scandal). Instead it is reduced to a silly quip about her name. Quips come in galore from Auntie Fadielah (June van Merch), who is the typical bis auntie (busybody) friend of Aisha. Barakat treads lightly on real issues like the shaky state of Raeesah and Zunaid’s marriage. These were missed opportunities that had graceful openings to do so. The revert experience in Islam was also something that could have been reflected on. As opposed to the oftentimes misogyny portrayed by Aisha’s sons; who ironically don’t have perfect romantic relationships.
There is levity galore in Barakat; from the quiz Zunaid gives Bertie on being Muslim, Raeesah’s mannerisms, and a very lovely bonding moment between Nur and Yaseen. We see a Jumuah prayer (Friday Muslim prayer service), and the famous maankykers; who look for the moon to appear to herald that Labarang will be the next day if sighted. The film’s real authenticity lies in the use of Afrikaaps; the Cape dialect of Afrikaans. Sitting in a cinema and hearing words like Jas (which has varying meanings) and tramakassie (thank you), slamat (congratulations), and kanallah (please) was beautiful. Language forms so much of our identities. To hear it on screen is so important for representation in film. The cinematography looks like an old colour photograph; it is intensely romantic. It looks like what a miyang stokkie (incense stick) would look like if I had to describe it.
Hopefully Barakat will open the doors to many more stories about South African families, that go beyond safe narratives about communities that are often misconstrued. Some years ago I read a small social media update about a white man from Cape Town who said it was his first time hearing the adhan (call to prayer) in Morocco. It was shocking to me because the home I live in is surrounded by four masjids (mosques). I grew up and live in this area with mosques and churches side by side. These types of disconnects in Cape Town are real, so Barakat will hopefully start bridging these gaps. It will open the door to more real portrayals of the Muslim experience in South Africa- affirming ones not just ones fighting stereotypes. Barakat is an Arabic word meaning blessings and we receive it in the film.
Barakat is showing at cinemas nationwide