Punk rock meets Islam in The Taqwacores

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, February 11, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Uneven and not always on the mark, “The Taqwacores” is one of those movies that fully deserves extra points just for trying something difficult and ambitious.

The low-budget film is based on a novel by Michael Muhammed Knight (who also co-scripted here), a cult work that imagines a subculture

of punk-rock Muslims living in the margins of Buffalo, N.Y.

As the movie opens, straight-laced newcomer Yusef (the engaging Bobby Naderi) moves into the dilapidated shared house that will be the location of much of the film’s action. A serious student of Islam, Yusef is very inexperienced in things like alcohol and women, both of which are suddenly available to him, thanks to his new housemates.

Prayer meetings alternate with bong hits and guitar licks, as Yusef’s tattooed and mohawked new friends present a rather unorthodox new world for his perusal. The ringleader of much of this mischief is Jehangir (impressive performance by Dominic Rains), the alpha male to Yusef’s cautious follower.

Director Eyad Zahra creates a gritty, lived-in atmosphere for the movie that doesn’t feel like a director faking his way through something. Maybe that’s because — although the film is still set in Buffalo — Zahra actually shot it in his own hometown, Cleveland.

He doesn’t back away from complicated stuff. There’s a female resident in the house, Rabeya (played by Noureen Dewulf) who spends 99 percent of her performance in a fully covering burqa.

This character has some issues with Islam, which she details. Beyond that, Zahra takes the offbeat step of actually using this completely faceless character for a variety of comic reaction shots, a curiously effective device.

The movie is ragged around the edges, so much so that it isn’t always clear who’s who or what has just happened. It also doesn’t really delve into a central question that often comes up when religion (any religion) and rebelliousness meet: Why are these young free thinkers holding to a dogma that seems to exclude them?

Maybe that question is answered by the cultural bond the characters share, which has to do with being raised Muslim, and feeling doubly or triply disconnected from society. For raising the issue at all, and for bringing if forward with such (admittedly messy) vitality, “The Taqwacores” is to be commended.

“The Taqwacores” ½

A straight-laced student moves into a shared house in Buffalo and experiences the shock of the punk subculture his fellow Muslim twentysomethings are celebrating. This gritty movie is pretty uneven, but it has undeniable vitality, a good young cast and an offbeat subject.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for language, subject matter

Showing: Northwest Film Forum

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