Nov 13, 2023
Mayra Pitambersingh, Alan Yadegarian, Winnie Augustus
NEW TO UK FILM REVIEW
Critics Chris Olson and Brian Penn host UK Film Club - a new film podcast covering all film types. From blockbusters to old favourites and even indie & shorts.
The beliefs of any religion should be embraced and accepted. Be it Christianity (and its many branches), Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, or any other religion, it is a wonderful part of humanity that there is such diversity of beliefs and cultures. However, whilst everybody has the right to believe and celebrate their religion, and such celebration should be actively encouraged, the upholding of such religious beliefs should never contradict and bring into question somebody’s human rights. This is an issue across all faiths - though not always presented as such by the Western media - yet ‘About Me’ focuses on some constraints placed upon people by strict Islamic beliefs.
Much of the time these constraints are more the result of the stringency of parents, in particular fathers and men in particular, and societal and cultural expectations than the religion itself. A Dutch film, ‘About Me’, or its Dutch title ‘Over Mij’, centres around the dilemma facing young Muslim girl Fatima (Mayra Pitambersingh). The sombre tone of the film is immediately underlined by the piano keys as Fatima puts on her hijab, and is echoed by her long empty stare into the distance, as though haunted, throughout much of the film. The piano eventually ebbs away however, and as Fatima is joined by her father, played by Alan Yadegarian, the soundtrack is replaced by the natural, everyday sounds of birds and buses trundling past, almost having a more despairing effect and doubling down on Fatima’s isolation and fear.
The reason for her fear is clear. Fatima and her father are on their way to the hospital, where Fatima is expected to conduct a virginity test by her father. He explains to the doctor how he believes it to be important for the families ‘honour’ that Fatima be a virgin and prove her virginity before marrying a relative, Mohammed, whose father also wishes for proof of her virginity. Undoubtedly such a test is not expected of her future husband - whom she is being prepared to marry despite only being 17 years of age - reflecting the misogyny of the patriarchal world in which she inhibits.
Fatima, knowing the truth, is understandably nervous, but fearing the consequences of refusing her father (although she also fears the results of the test), she goes along with it. The central performance by Mayra Pitambersingh is an exercise in subtlety. From the long, haunted gaze into the gloomy distance, and the general lack of smile that haunts her face, it is a performance of great restraint, even when she breaks down and cries to the doctor, who is played by Winnie Augustus. This restraint is matched by both the writing and directing by Ali Asgari, who holds back from big dramatic moments in favour of more slyly heart aching scenes.
In conclusion, ‘About Me’ is an excellent exercise in restraint, both from the writer-director, and its immense cast led by the phenomenal Mayra Pitambersingh.