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average rating is 4 out of 5


Amber Jackson


Posted on:

Mar 28, 2023

Film Reviews
Directed by:
Shamim Sarif
Written by:
Shamim Sarif
Holly Deveaux, Maxine Denis, Hesham Hammoud

Trigger warning: scenes of religious trauma.


Ground-breaking and highly esteemed British filmmaker Shamim Sarif is typically renowned for films such as I Can’t Think Straight and The World Unseen which focus on female-led, cross-cultural queer experiences. Throughout her work, she draws upon her knowledge and strengths in portraying characters who have experience of Indian or Middle-Eastern diasporas. Her latest film, Polarized, is no exception. Situated in small-town America, two women from opposite cultural backgrounds are thrown together in an uncomfortable situation at work and slowly find themselves connecting despite their differences. This is an incredibly rich film which is incredibly charismatic of Sarif’s work in its broody and bold tone and it has an inherent need to call out multiple types of ignorance.


Lisa (Holly Deveaux) is an aspiring songwriter who is struggling to support her family who have been forced to leave their farm. At her new place of work, an ‘urban farm’, owned by a Palestinian family, she meets one of her new bosses, Dalia (Maxine Denis). Lisa’s casual racism ultimately leads her to be fired, but the story delves deeper into the inner workings of Lisa and Dalia’s dynamic. Both women, but especially Dalia, have such strong agency over their convictions which is incredibly refreshing to see in a contemporary film. Dalia inherently calls out racism and how people resent her family because of their successes as well as their cultural differences. The film clearly captures that tight-knit community mentality and the toxicity that stems from this, particularly concerning queerness. Polarized speaks of an all-to-familiar trope through Lisa and Dalia needing to leave home and is a brutally raw portrayal of realistic dangers that LGBTQ+ people experience.


Both key characters are struggling, which is especially the case when their sexualities come into question. There is a deep sense of longing that Sarif often utilises on screen between two women that is electric and engaging. Deveaux and Denis have delightful chemistry as viewers can feel the tension between them through their captivating performances. Likewise, their dynamic allows for a clear exploration of the complexities of Christianity as well as gender expectations within an Arab family. Despite their different upbringings, both Lisa and Dalia have familial expectations forced upon them, which leaves them open to judgement. The relationship between the two women builds slowly and deliberately, as they seek to forget their differences and end up falling in love in the process. Their differences ultimately make their bond stronger as they fight harder to be together.


Sarif successfully places an intense storyline within a rich landscape, with gorgeous rolling farmland framing the narrative. This, along with great production value and a vibrant score, works very well to convey a small-town American farming community. Amongst the sunshine, Sarif is able to use these elements to portray the bleakness and foreboding atmosphere of the script and suggest that, despite a beautiful location, Lisa and Dalia are exposed to a brutal reality. The drama is conveyed in an authentic way and shows both women experience a crossroads in life concerning both their families and their identities. Lisa must learn a greater sense of self-worth, whereas Dalia seeks to better express her vulnerability. Their encounters and acknowledgement of same-sex desire are deeply heartfelt and emotive, as Sarif captures the authentic struggles of queer women regardless of race or social privilege.


Although some subplots are not fully resolved, Polarized is a powerful film that provides grave insight into a small community driven by ignorance and its impact on two women. It will be great to witness the further successes of this film after BFI Flare.

About the Film Critic
Amber Jackson
Amber Jackson
LGBTQ+, World Cinema, Film Festival
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