The French and Arabic film Certified Halal (Certifiee Halal) is a peculiar little farce from writer-director Mahmoud Zemmouri, (co-written with Marie-Laurence Attias). The story they tell is a kind of Comedy of Errors full of misogyny, forced marriages, drugging, and numerous cases of mistaken identity.
Unfortunately, the subject matter is likely a bit too serious to be considered “screwball”, and most of the characters are either unlikable or drugged, and conveniences move the plot along more than any logical choice of the characters. In the end, there are too many weaknesses in Certified Halal to overlook.
It took me a few minutes to understand the comic tone of the film, and by that time we’d already been introduced to our “protagonist”, Kenza (Hafsia Herzi). She is a college student in France who angers her Algerian parents by standing up for women’s rights, equality, and sexual liberation on television. This angers her brother so much that he decides to drug her, arrange a marriage with an Algerian bigwig who has lots of chickens, and transport her to Algeria for the wedding, all-the-while keeping her addled with a sedative.
The conflux of weirdness, gross misogyny, and goofy details certainly helps establish the farcical tone, but the discordance is too strong. The character we are supposed to identify with is nearly unconscious throughout the first half of the film. We simply watch people move her around. Even when she does regain her wits, she is still quite helpless, and succeeds by sheer dumb luck multiple times.
The characters feel as though they completely lack volition and are just bystanders in the story, which is a hallmark of poor writing. Sure, there are amusing hijinx throughout the film, but by the end it feels like everything was just a big, icky waste of time.
Sunday, October 30, 4:00 PM, Spadina Theatre, Alliance française de Toronto
Tickets can be purchased at the Cinéfranco website.