Among the many forgettable debut films, this one stands out, even though it is imperfect.


Luca Pusceddu and Shermin Hassan


There is something very individual about this debut feature from Sadia Saeed. It has taken a while to get distribution and it is not wholly successful, but as writer and director, Saeed displays an admirably personal approach both as regards style and material. Set in London but with a brief excursion to Sussex, Arifa emerges first and foremost as a character study. Some may wish that it had a stronger story to tell, but the emphasis on the title figure, a 28-year-old Pakistani girl whose home is in Southwark, plays to the film’s greatest strength which is to be found in the performance in this role by Shermin Hassan.


Arifa works in an insurance office and we first meet her when on a date with her boss, Michael (Rez Kempton). But almost at once we find them at odds and that is hardly surprising because Arifa is forthright in her remarks, not to say outspoken, and regularly rubs people up the wrong way. That makes her an unusual but apt central character since Saeed is aiming at tragicomedy, albeit one in which big gestures are resolutely avoided.


It is with Arifa herself that the writing is at its most surefooted. Arifa’s dislike of people who are fakes is one reason why she speaks out so much, even if her comments can sometimes be hurtful. However, she is also somebody with anger issues which may in part reflect two things: the fact that she has never found a man to match her dreams (she is, in fact, still a virgin) and a less than perfect home life with her mother (Taru Devani) and a sister (Nimisha Odedra). As it happens we meet the father too, but this man, Hameed (Jeff Mizra), is unreliable, more often absent than not and ready to ask the family for financial assistance. A subplot dealing with Hameed’s sale of tobacco on the black market is rather unconvincingly handled but, just as Arifa is key, it is her romantic relationship with a visitor to London, Riccardo played by Luca Pusceddu, which plays a central role here. She is not sure if he can be trusted and, indeed, given Pusceddu’s broad performance it would be unconvincing if she did not have doubts.


However, Arifa seeks in all respects to reflect everyday existence rather than to rely on plot, a fact also illustrated by subsidiary scenes with Arifa’s best friend and with her therapist. Early on we discover that Arifa is herself trying to write a novel guided by a tutor who keeps telling her that her efforts lack what a story needs by way of a plot. This is surely a defiance addressed by Saeed to the viewer indicating that she knows full well that what she is offering in this film would not win the approval of this tutor. But in everything concerning Arifa the movie works because she emerges as a rounded if difficult presence (the piano score by Mike Lindup underlines the more serious feelings always present below the comic surface and Saeed’s relaxed direction adds to the character of the piece in conjunction with the attractive colour photography in ‘Scope by Giuseppe Pignone). Arifa has faults and will not be to all tastes, but it is a debut which at its best is unquestionably distinctive.




Cast: Shermin Hassan, Luca Pusceddu, Jeff Mirza, Shazia Mirza, Taru Devani, Rez Kempton, Nimisha Odedra, Zehra Naqvi, Tina Gray, Athene Parker, Brett Fancy, George Camiller, Lenox Kambaba.


Dir Sadia Saeed, Pro Peter Leslie, Screenplay Sadia Saeed, Ph Giuseppe Pignone, Pro Des Jeff Schell, Ed Peter Leslie, Music Mike Lindup, Costumes Jenny Arderton.


Shono Productions Ltd-Miracle Comms.
91 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 28 June 2019. Cert. 15.