Barakah Meets Barakah is a 2016 film and is touted to be the first comedy film from Saudi Arabia. Coming from the country where cinema is banned and the notion of theatres do not exist (but now cinema is not banned). Barakah meets Barakah is a film that is a jibe at their ideologies.
Mahmoud Sabbagh satirically makes a romantic comedy through the characters of Barakah and Bibi. While Barakah is a Jeddah law enforcement officer, Bibi is a habitual law violator. Barakah makes sure everyone follows the rules while Bibi is an Instagram sensation who posts videos on women empowerment and fashions, cropping her face out. Through the chemistry between the two, subtle jibes are made.
The film begins with the title card stating “The pixelization you see in this film is totally normal. It is not a commentary on censorship. We repeat, it is not a commentary on censorship.” It didn’t make sense to me in the beginning but there but after watching the film, I understood its significance. It was a message to people outside of the country on how citizens were forced to follow a tyrannical lifestyle.
Lashes out at the taboos
As pointed out earlier, Barakah and Bibi are opposite in nature – Barakah is naïve and religious while Bibi is free spirited and frustrated over the system. The story is about a simple boy meets girl setup and then falling in love. He is clueless on how to declare his love and he is forced to get dating advice from his uncle. It is ironical because the very same uncle who has problems with his wife. The uniqueness in the film lies in the problems the lovers face in fixing a dating spot.
There are no places for them to meet as the religious police forbids the society from doing so. So, their meetings take place in supermarkets and parks where they can blend in with the crowd. They mingle in such a way that they don’t raise suspicions. Such restrictions make even Barakah, an ardent religious follower question the system. These scenes are where the filmmaker enlightens us on how life in this country is.
This film might be termed as a propaganda film but to someone who is oblivious to what’s happening in that country – this is how we understand the system. The filmmaker has seamlessly packed in political nuances through a romantic comedy. It never feels too priggish but conveys everything within limits. It lashes out at the taboos not in a serious tone but in a humorous manner.
Barakah Meets Barakah is a candid take on liberation from prohibition through a zany romcom
The scene where Barakah plays Ophelia in his friend’s direction of Hamlet follows the pattern of the Shakespearean era. Barakah is clueless when asked to wear a push up bra to look more womanly for the role. It is funny when he asks his girlfriend about it revealing his innocence. Even the scene where he gifts her a lingerie as a present shows his ignorance.
The film’s purpose is established when Barakah acknowledges the contrasts between his generation to that of his uncle’s generation when there were no restrictions. He appreciates the greatness of the country then, where men and women were allowed to socialize and express themselves without any policing. Life then was free compared to the caged life now. The film winds up with Barakah presenting violet flowers to Sibi symbolizing the start of a new beginning.
Overall Barakah Meets Barakah is a candid take on liberation from prohibition through a zany romcom. Watching the film will remind you of the collaboration between Woody Allen and Pedro Almodóvar works. It is worth watching the lives of desperate love birds in a restricted environment.