I am an unabashed admirer of French films, especially the classics of the golden age in which Renoir, Carne, Pagnol, Bunuel and Clair turned out masterpiece after masterpiece. A frisson of excitement, therefore, coursed through my veins when I received an invitation from the Alliance Francaise to the screening of Noor and Son Epouse. I was nevertheless a little curious when I learned that the directors, Ms Cagla Zencirci of Turkey and Mr Guillame Giovanetti of France, had come to Pakistan to make a film without any preconceived plot or theme in mind until… well, until they saw this beautiful young man serving tea to truckers in the north of the country… and decided, then and there, to make a film about him. His name is Noor and the film, shot on location, is all about him, his dreams and his aspirations. It is the tale of a transgender who is desperately hoping to be treated as a male. A story of desperation and hope and unrequited love. Noor portrays a character with wild mood swings. One moment he is a cul-de-sac of impotent rage with the grating undertones of contempt; and the next moment, he is blissfully happy at the thought that he might one day find the enchanted lake with the fairies that would fulfill his basic wish, which is to be able to grow a moustache and beard so he could appear as a normal man.
In the introduction, before the film was screened, Ms Cagla Zencirci made it abundantly clear that Noor was a work of pure fiction, a fantasy. It was not a documentary about cross-dressers as such, but the story of an essentially gentle soul, who was desperately trying to find his place under the sun. She also pointed out that she was interested in exhibiting the real image of Pakistan and not the portrait that foreigners are accustomed to being shown, which displays the country’s ugly side as a land of genetic disorders, of intolerance, of terrorism with all the crass and shaming layers of wrong. I was particularly impressed by the languor of the camera work, which captured some of the indescribable beauty of the Northern Areas, which the majority of the audience had never seen. I was also touched by the professionalism displayed by the actors who were all amateurs. There were no cornball cliches. Not a single person appeared flustered or ill at ease in front of the camera. He was just himself.
The plot is straight forward. Beautiful young man (BYM), when not dancing, makes a living selling tea to truckers. One night, a horny drunk trucker tries to abuse BYM. In the scuffle BYM kills the trucker, hops into his truck, and drives away into an unknown future. Discovers money under seat, has breakfast next morning at a roadside cafe. Nosy truckers fire questions, suspect the truck with Rawalpindi number plates is stolen, run to fetch the police. BYM jumps into the truck, evades pursuers, drives into wilderness. In glare of headlights, BYM sees a single woman fleeing a male pursuer. BYM offers outstretched hand and pulls the woman to safety. Later, when the woman is asleep, BYM plays utter cad. The woman, full of anger, escapes, flees into the eerie night. BYM searches for her in vain. Finally, finds her dancing at the shore of a lake of fairies dressed in angelic white. Profusely apologises for behaviour. Is finally forgiven. Friendship, understanding and trust develop. Confidences are exchanged. BYM asks the woman, who is a professional dancer, to teach him Kathak, so he can earn enough for two. She obliges. The film ends. The audience gives generous applause. I am counting on this film making an impact in Cannes.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2014.