Gorgeous period piece captures two women who face intense hatred as they fall in love in 1950s South Africa
Despite a heavy political message equating the oppression of women with apartheid in South Africa, "The World Unseen" is a glossy lesbian soap opera. The main characters are beautiful Indian women who spend 83 minutes making goo-goo eyes at each other before finally trying to act on their passion.
Amina (Sheetal Sheth, "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World") is the rebel who wears trousers (still rare for women in 1952, when the story takes place) and knows who she is and what she wants. She wants Miriam (Lisa Ray, "Water"), the wife of shopkeeper Omar (Parvin Dabas), who cheats on Miriam with his slutty sister-in-law (Natalie Becker) and slaps her around when she disobeys him.
With very little in the way of love scenes and countless scenes of women being raped, beaten, slapped and pushed around by men, "The World Unseen" draws its power from an emphasis on the negative.
Amina is co-owner of the Location CafÃ© with Jacob (David Dennis), except they can’t legally be co-owners because the biracial Jacob is classified as "colored." He sees a chance to end his loneliness with the white postmistress, Madeleine (Grethe Fox), who appears willing. So they also spend most of the film looking longingly at each other.
Besides the brother with the slutty wife, Omar has a twin sister, Rehmat (Nandana Sen). Omar doesn’t tell Miriam about Rehmat until she turns up with a white fiancÃ©. This puts them in violation of the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 and sets the brutish, one-dimensional state police on their trail. (OK, one of the cops has two dimensions, but he mostly stays in the background.)
Omar unwittingly brings Miriam and Amina closer together by hiring Amina to put in a vegetable garden. How she has time when she’s co-running the cafÃ© is never questioned.
Later she asks Miriam to cook at the cafÃ© part-time and Omar explodes. No wife of his is going to work — unless she’s working for him, of course. Not that the shop needs her: In maybe a dozen scenes at the cafÃ©, we never once see a customer.
When the women discuss running away together, Miriam says she would never leave her three children. This is conveniently forgotten immediately afterward, because in that time and place, a lesbian would never have been awarded custody — it’s hard enough in the U.S. now.
Shamim Sarif adapted "The World Unseen" from her own novel and directed it with an eye that’s rare for a wordsmith. Cinematography appears to take precedence over all other aspects of the film. If there’s a pretty picture, it’s in — whatever else may suffer.
"The World Unseen" deserves a place on the shelf with "Desert Hearts," "Claire of the Moon" and other lesbian love stories that aren’t great films but satisfy a craving.
|THE WORLD UNSEEN|
|C+||Director: Shamim Sarif
Cast: Lisa Ray, Sheetal Sheth, Parvin Dabas and Nandana Sen
Out Takes Dallas screening Nov. 13 at p.m. at the Inwood Theater. $10. 1 hr. 34 min. PG-13
OUT TAKES GOES MONTHLY
Due to lack of volunteers, Dallas’ gay film fest launches ‘Gay Movie Night’ every 2nd Thursday
After nine years of cranking out a 10-day festival of gay films, OUT TAKES Dallas had to shift focus. Due to a lack of volunteer manpower, organizers agreed to cancel this year’s fest.
Instead of coordinating more than 100 screenings in a short period of time, OUT TAKES will launch a Gay Movie Night — one film screened the second Thursday of every month.
For this month, OUT TAKES screens "The World Unseen" (see accompanying review) at the newly refurbished downstairs theater at Inwood Theater. Beginning December, the screenings move to The Magnolia in the West Village.
MEET THE GAY RECRUITER
It was disappointing that a city the size of Dallas couldn’t come through with enough film-fest volunteers. But some fresh faces have recently stepped up to the plate, like Kari Logan, pictured, OUT TAKES’ new human resources director.
The newbie helper’s main gig is to enlist more volunteers. She regularly attends and participates in each part of the hiring process and places folks in areas that suit their interests.
Why volunteer? I’ve been volunteering for 17 years. With OUT TAKES, I’m making a direct impact on the GLBT community. People need to be exposed to the creative minds that bring us GLBT-focused films, and I help make that happen.
Still need volunteers? Always. We need motivated people who want to make a non-profit event thrive, not just happen. My philosophy is: Taking the job is voluntary. Doing the job isn’t.
What’s the most important part about volunteering? Having a positive attitude. It isn’t about showing up to take tickets. It is about enthusiasm and making moviegoers want to come back.
Is the new monthly format better for volunteers? Yes. It will allow volunteers to be involved on a year-round basis — not for just a few jam-packed time-demanding weekends. That will keep the momentum going, and it makes it easier for volunteers to donate their time.
For information about volunteering with Out Takes Dallas, visit Outtakesdallas.org, e-mail Logan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-988-6333.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 7, 2008.