Director: Eyad Zahra
Screenplay: Michael Muhammad Knight & Eyad Zahra
Based on a Story by: Michael Muhammad Knight
Producer: Eyad Zahra
Starring: Bobby Naderi, Noureen Dewulf, Dominic Rains, Nav Mann
Duration: 83 min
The Taqwacores is a thought-provoking indie film dealing with the complexities of being a young Muslim living in modern day America.
It centres around Yusef (Bobby Naderi), a hard-working student who moves into a shared house in Buffalo, New York, full of fellow Muslims who are followers of Taqwacore, a Muslim punk movement developing in the West Coast. Meeting these 'misfits' and learning about their beliefs and the way they follow their religion gradually changes the way Yusef shapes and views his own identity. He develops a particular friendship with Jehangir (Dominic Rains) who plans to bring Taqwacore to the East Coast by hosting a concert at the house. Interestingly, the novel the film is based on was fictional, but a real Taqwacore movement grew due to the success of the book within Islamic circles.
It's fantastic subject matter, ripe for cinematic treatment that grabbed my attention when reading the film's press material, but I'm sorry to say that the film fails to deliver an experience to match it.
The main problem is the writing. There is zero subtlety to it – it's centred around a punk scene, so subtlety maybe isn't what they were after, but this is taking it too far. The film's messages of keeping individual within a seemingly strict and inflexible religion and the constant demonstrations of the 'unorthodox' practises of it's protagonists are hammered home to oblivion. There is also a tendency to over-explain everything that happens which stops the film from alienating non-Muslim audiences I guess, but is done so clumsily that it infuriates rather than informs.
All of this clunky exposition and need to over-state it's points come at the expense of the film's narrative which is barely existent. After we are introduced to the community within the house there is little to hold our interest until the concert finally takes place in the last 10 or 15 minutes of the film. The film seems more interested in showing off how 'hardcore' it's characters are over and over again rather than actually delving into the Taqwacore scene and it's music. The film's stylish climax at the concert delivers what I would have preferred, letting the raw energy of the music do the talking over some powerful imagery. It's a shame it comes too little too late.
The cast aren't the finest actors in the world, but a couple of them, especially Rains, have enough charisma and energy to keep you interested. I imagine the clumsy writing didn't do them any favours. It's grungy look is effective enough too although due to the blunt moralising it reminded me at times of an educational film that was trying too hard to be 'down with the kids'.
It's sad really because there was so much to work with and it's mainly just the screenplay that spoils the film and makes it very hard to recommend. There's actually a documentary that has been made on the topic called Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, perhaps that's a better alternative. If not, someone should try again.
The Taqwacores is released in the UK on 12th August.