A Jihad for Love
2008, NR, 81 min. Directed by Parvez Sharma.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 8, 2008
Certainly, it will come as no surprise to viewers that homosexuality is forbidden in the Muslim religion. Sharma's documentary, which visits 12 countries and several dozen gay Muslim men and women, is a brave study of what it's like to live and love under such conditions. Tellingly, a great number of those interviewed are refugees from their countries of birth, having fled in order to live more freely elsewhere or to escape more literal imprisonment. The filmmaker and his subjects are to be commended for their honesty, yet there's an overwhelming sameness to their stories that impedes the film's dramatic value. Moreover, a great many of the faces are blurred to protect the speakers' identities, a tactic that further desaturates the film's personal impact. Still, stories of gay persecution like that of the Egyptian man who escaped to France after being in prison for three years, the Iranian who received 100 lashes, and the South African imam whose children say they would dutifully stone their father to death as instructed by their religious teachings, are unshakably sad. What's most striking about the individuals in this documentary is their struggle to reconcile their sexuality with their religious faith. From the outside, it might seem that the struggle for coexistence is a losing cause, and those who pine for it are stuck spinning their wheels in this personal jihad. In this regard, the film resembles Sandi DuBowski's Trembling Before G-d, a documentary that examines the conflicts between gays and the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities. DuBowski is the producer of A Jihad for Love, and this strategy of questing for acceptance from the religion's fundamentalists by those who do not wish to stray from their faith is similar. Technically, Jihad's images and assemblage seem on par for a first-time filmmaker, though the film's message is a moving plaint.