World premiere of El Houb – The Love at Frameline Film Festival, San Francisco – 2o June
By turns hilarious and poignant, El Houb – The Love takes us inside the stressed-out and put-upon mind of Karim, a successful Moroccan-Dutch businessman who is so panicked about coming out to his traditional Muslim parents that he (literally) barricades himself in their closet. As he feverishly revisits childhood memories, negotiates a budding romance with a new Ghanaian boyfriend, and wages a long-delayed battle royale to uproot his family’s conservative attitudes, he also must face his community’s biases (as well as his own) that have brought him to the brink.
Based loosely on the real-life experiences and theater work of the actor playing Karim (Fahd Larhzaoui), the film features a wonderful deadpan performance by Lubna Azabal as Karim’s hardline traditionalist mother who insists on feeding him Moroccan treats even as she threatens to disown him. With an inventive visual storytelling style, El Houb – The Love is a darkly funny melo-dramedy making its world premiere at the Castro for Frameline46.
Director Shariff Nasr argues that this is a very universal story, the idea for which developed when he was visiting family in the Middle East. “They were warm and welcoming and I thought ‘would any of these people love me less if I would suddenly found myself being attracted to a man?’.” He concluded that hopefully they would love him exactly the same, but nevertheless that sexuality would be a difficult subject to talk about.
“When I see stories about LGBTQ+ in the MENA-community presented in the media, we always see how you either choose for your sexuality or you choose for your family,” says Nasr. “There is so much more in-between but we do not see those these subjects discussed. I could not even find a film that was about the conversation. So I thought, maybe then we need to make this film.”
The role of Karim is played by Fahd Larhzaoui, himself a gay man who experienced similar feelings of doubt and fear of losing his family when coming out. “I have been through the whole process of making this film for nine years with him. Without him, it could not have been made,” says Nasr. “His involvement in the writing process and dedication in the acting process was key.”
Karim’s mother Fatima is played brilliantly by Belgian/Moroccan actress Lubna Azabal who ages thirty years across the film’s timescape. She is a complicated character, a highly intelligent woman who sacrificed a career in medicine for her family. “Of course we did a lot with make-up, but she really dived into all the small details of walking, talking, moving and thinking like an elderly woman,” comments Nasr. “I was amazed when she brought it all to life. She was not Lubna anymore. She really was this mother. Even at night she would be busy trying to get this complex character into her system.”
Karim’s father Abbas is played by the French/Algerian actor Slimane Dazi who had to speak the Moroccan Darija Arab dialect for his role. “He was dedicated to mastering Darija and to speak it like a genuine Moroccan father,” says Nasr.
After its market roll-out during Cannes, theatrical rights for El Houb film were sold to US, Canada, Germany, Austria, Swiss, Poland and Israel. “It feels unreal that all this is already happening without the film even being seen by an audience,” Nasr ends.