Dir: Albert ter Heerdt. The Netherlands. 2004. 88mins
The ever expanding borders of the European Union have pushed immigration to the top of the political agenda. Hush, Hush Baby touches on some of the serious global issues surrounding the topic but is generally happy to settle for broad, knockabout comedy and lightweight sentiment. The tales of family conflicts, neighbourhood friends and idle dreamers have much more in common with the rough and ready early work of Shane Meadows than Michael Winterbottom's refugee drama In This World. A success at home in Holland earlier this year, its Berlin Panorama showcase should ensure further festival exposure with an outside chance of arthouse interest in some territories.
Moving from the bleak emptiness of a small Moroccan settlement to the concrete sprawl of urban Holland, writer-director Albert ter Heerdt uses the clash between traditional values and new-found freedoms to propel a loosely structured story. Family squabbles and generation gap rows lend the film a distant echo of East Is East although the comedy is less uproarious and the drama much less intense.
Rotting in bed most of the time, 20-year-old Abdullah (Oaissa) hangs out with a group of equally rootless friends, filling his dead end days with puerile fantasies of fame and fortune. His older brother Sam (Amhali) has joined the police force, married and blended in with his new life. His mischievous younger brother Driss (Ojja) is forever devising dubious money-making scams.
Their sister Leila (Haoud) is more focused in her ambition, studying fashion design and outmanoeuvring every attempt at an arranged marriage. Stumbling from botched job opportunity to failed bank robbery and possible marriage, Abdullah's quest for a sense of belonging lends an overall cohesion to the sketchy narrative.
A likeable, good-natured affair, Hush Hush Baby ranges in tone from dry humour to outright farce with a good deal of comic mileage in Abdullah's ineptitude and his mother's subversive resistance to the father's old-fashioned ideas. At one point she cheerfully pushes the older man's wheelchair into a bus shelter, using her failing eyesight as a cover for multiple acts of misbehaviour.
Attempts to dig a little deeper jar especially when a frustrated Abdullah launches a violent attack on his sister for asserting her independence. This is a film much more at home with a sunny smile than a troubling frown.
Ter Heerdt uses the phases of the moon (New Moon, Last Quarter etc) as chapter headings and eventually steers events back to Morocco to underline exactly why the family is so committed to making the most of a new life in Europe.
His unobtrusive style serves the story and also showcases some appealing performances with Touriya Haoud making the most striking impression as Leila and Mimoun Oaissa revealing a confident presence as the hapless Abdullah.
A relatively modest running time works in the film's favour ensuring that it doesn't overstay its welcome.
Prod co/int'l sales: Theorema Films
Dutch dist: Independent Film
Prods: Rene Huybrechtse, Joram Willink, Frank Bak
Scr: Albert ter Heerdt
Cine: Steve Walker
Prod des: Anet Wilgenhof, Judith Schuitert
Ed: Sytse Kramer
Music: Vincent van Warmerdam, Cablejuice, Mike Meijer
Main cast: Mimoun Oaissa, Najib Amhali, Touriya Haoud, Illias Ojja, Salah Eddine Benmoussa