Friday, 18 May 2012

Inside Out Grows Up with My Brother the Devil

Ironically, Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival leaves its adolescent years behind by launching its 22nd year with a film in which the youthful tenets of masculinity are harshly tested. The engrossing and refreshing British drama, MY BROTHER THE DEVIL is set and shot on location in the Hackney, UK, home of director, Sally El Hosaini. The story centres around Rashid (James Floyd) an early school leaver and drug-running gang-member who wants better for his studious younger brother, Mo (Fady Elsayed). 

Fady Elsayed (Mo) and James Floyd (Rasid) in MY BROTHER THE DEVIL dir. Sally El Hosaini)
I thought I knew what to expect from My Brother the Devil, but was wonderfully surprised by its refreshing take on a familiar storyline. The script is well-realized on screen with fantastic cinematography, music, sound, and carefully placed scenes that underscore the pattern of tension and release needed in a rude boy picture. 

Actor, James Floyd, who doesn't have a bad side as far as the camera is concerned, is solidly cast in his role as Rashid--most would never know that the mix of East London and Caribbean patois was not his natural dialect. He is as believable amongst his gang "fam" (some of whom were local non-actors) as he is in relating to his birth family. With his ability to imbue Mo with the necessary vulnerability and awkward posturing of a fourteen year old, Fady Elsayed (in his first screen role) manages to capture the universality of the younger brother wanting to impress and emulate his older brother. Young actress, Letitia Wright, is a scene-stealer as Aisha, a new neighbour that Mo has a crush on. 

In establishing the dynamics between the brothers from the opening of the film, and introducing their family and friends at the same time, writer/director, El Hosaini immediately defines the roles and world in which Rashid and Mo inhabit. In an open secret between Rashid and his mother, he augments the family income by slipping money into her wallet and she turns a blind eye at the origin of the money; Mo is privy to that secret, and would like to do the same thing, but college or university is the familial goal for him; their father works as a bus driver, and doesn't approve of Rashid's unemployed status nor his friendships with the "Blacks" on the housing estate. Mirroring the confined world of the brothers is the tiny flat in which they live, sharing a room with bunk beds and little privacy. Truth is spoken outside the confines of the flat, but there is no softness there to cushion any blows; the estate playgrounds are occupied by rope gyms, paths barricaded by iron rails, and concrete mounds. Just who is the "devil" in this tense urban maze is left up to the viewer. 

Speaking via Skype, El Hosaini was pleased that the film was being shown on the International Day Against Homophobia because she wanted to bring that very subject to light: how do young men, living in a hyper-masculine environment, with transposed values from various Arab cultures, negotiate the issue of masculinity and homosexuality? She also wanted to move beyond stereotypes in an exploration of brotherly love. In playing Rashid, James Floyd said that he benefited in his preparation for the role by being accepted by the locals into a world he knew almost nothing about. He shared that learning the dialect was like learning a new language ("I had to ask what certain words meant"), one that he studied hard to capture in delivering El Hosaini's realistic dialogue.

El Hosaini plans to have a screening of the film in Hackney (only the cast and local crew have seen the Sundance Award-winning film) and other parts of inner city London.  She would also like My Brother the Devil to be seen in the Middle East, but has yet to be invited to any of those festivals.  

Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival
May 17-27th
By Phone:
10am to 7pm daily
416.599.TIFF (8433)
Toll free: 1.888.599.8433
In Person: 10am to 10pm daily
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square,
350 King Street West (at John Street)

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