By Phil Hall | June 29, 2004

“The Road to Love” follows the journey of Karim, an Arab student filmmaker in Paris, who decides to create a documentary on homosexuality in the Arab culture for a sociology project. Using his video camera, he interviews several young gay Arabs of North African heritage who are living in Paris. Most of the interviews are not satisfactory, but one subject seems more articulate and focused than the others. He is Farid, an openly gay flight attendant who not only feels at ease with his sexuality but also suspects something about Karim that Karim is not willing to openly acknowledge. The formal video interviews leads to a very informal friendship. Karim and Farid wind up taking a trip together to Morocco, where the exact nature of their relationship is decided upon.

By American standards, “The Road to Love” is surprisingly conservative in its approach. Homosexuality is still a taboo subject in many Islamic societies, yet this French production is not shy about talking about historic precedents and contemporary notions of what it means to be gay and Muslim. Indeed, the film is just that: all talk. Except for a micro-brief simulated kiss between the male leads (we never see the lip-lock), there is nothing here that could be considered vaguely lascivious. (There is a brief shot of full frontal male nudity involving a nudist interviewed by Karim, but the subject’s nakedness is not the least bit erotic.)

While fans of gay cinema may be impatient at the lack of mano-a-mano action, “The Road to Love” literally lives up to its title by presenting an intelligent journey by the two main characters. With Karim, it is the challenge to face and question an aspect of his personality which he either did not consider or worked hard to bury – the question of his latency hangs over the film like an unsolved puzzle. For Farid, the pursuit of Karim is not just a chase after another cute guy, but rather the question of whether he finally connected with the someone special he was always searching for. The resolution of both men’s journey comes in a stunning surprise which takes their union to a level far beyond mere carnality. If this was an American film, they’d be in bed within the first reel. With this production, the question of pure love is truly put to the test and the results are much more satisfying.

The film does make one mistake with the character of Karim’s girlfriend, who reacts to his video project with initial amusement but soon comes to hate both the project and Karim. She is not a sympathetic individual and often seems reduced to cartoonish eye-rolling and gasps which does not fit in with the maturity of the other performances. The actress playing this role (Sihem Benamoune) is not filmed in a flattering matter, yet both Karim Tarek as Karim and Riyad Echahi as Farid are given deep close-ups which accentuate their uncommonly beautiful eyelashes. Perhaps next time we can see a production about the mistreatment of women in films about gay Arab men?

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