In some ways, director Halkawt Mustafa’s El Classico (in Arabic) -- screened at the Dubai International Film Festival -- straddling between Kurdistan and Spain is Bollywoodish in feel and texture. It is the story of two dwarfs -- real dwarfs and not like the one which was portrayed by Kamal Hassan in his 1989 Apoorva Sagodharargal -- whose peaceful existence goes for a toss when one of them wants to marry his childhood sweetheart, Gona. But her father will not let her -- who is of normal height -- marry Alan, the little man who runs a tea shop in Kurdistan.
Interwoven into this love story is the craze for football. Kurdish locals are passionate about the game, taking noisy sides between Real Madrid and Barcelona FC, known as El Classico. Gona’s father is a Ronaldo supporter and being a cobbler by profession, makes a pair of shoes for his football hero that he hopes to present some day.
Alan sees this as a great chance to prove his worth to the stubborn old man. Alan steals the shoes one night -- and along with his brother, Shirwan, also a dwarf, who agrees to play Cupid -- embarks on a motorbike trip to Madrid, where Ronaldo lives. The journey is illegal, the brothers have no valid papers, and is fraught with adventure of the most dangerous kind.
Half way through the trip, Shirwan calls it quits, and Alan is left to fend for himself, and while Gona pines for him, her little man presses on.
El Classico, despite its fairytale feel, is a sincere attempt to narrate a love story that is so unequal. While Gona is beautiful and a normal woman, she loves Alan, a dwarf who is often the butt of ridicule.
Another love story one saw at the festival was Fares Naanaa’s Borders of Heaven, (also in Arabic) that underlines how a tragedy shakes the very foundation of a Tunisian couple’s relationship. Sami and Sara are in their thirties and appear content and happy till a tragedy befalls them.
When their little daughter drowns, the parents are wracked by guilt and despair -- and find their bond growing weaker by the day. The man takes to drinking, while the woman, fed up with such negativism, walks out of the marriage.
But Borders of Heaven -- again one of those movies that appears to have been influenced by Indian cinema -- cannot let its viewers go home unhappy. Can it?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran covered the Dubai International Film Festival.)
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