Cross-cultural road pic “Dunya & Desie” positively sings with upbeat energy and humor, nailing its target teen-girl audience with a well-crafted story of friendship and understanding. Thesps are now a bit older than in their award-winning TV series, also helmed by Dana Nechushtan, but issues of family and fitting in still take centerstage as Moroccan Dunya and Dutch Desie negotiate parental expectations and what it means to straddle two worlds. Skedded for an April release, the pic has “popular hit” written all over it.
Considering the lack of multiplex product taking the hot-button topic of Muslim-Western tolerance to a young adult crowd, Nechushtan’s pic could be a “Bend It Like Beckham”-level smash with enormous remake potential. “Dunya & Desie” avoids the preachiness that would turn off teens, cleverly winning viewers over with the perfect combination of girl talk and humor. Any possible remake could even retain Dutch pop singer Dennis’ catchy theme song, “I Rely on You,” which fits perfectly with the candy-colored credits montage.
Amsterdam-based Dunya (Maryam Hassouni) and Desie (Eva van de Wijdeven), both 18, are best friends despite the enormous gulf in backgrounds and personalities. Dunya’s traditional Moroccan family is none too pleased with her friendship with Desie, a bubbly white-trash poster girl with bleached hair and skimpy clothing.
Right before Dunya’s parents (Rachida Iaallala, Mahjoub Benmoussa) take her to Morocco for an arranged marriage, Desie discovers she’s pregnant (the scene with the two girls waiting for the pregnancy-test results is hilarious), forcing her to decide whether to abort. The confused teen decamps to Morocco to hook up with Dunya and find her father, who left Holland for Casablanca 18 years earlier.
As in all good road movies, the leads manage to find themselves along the way, and while there’s a certain degree of predictability in the wrap-up, who doesn’t want a happy ending for a couple of kids as appealing as these two?
No knowledge of the TV series is necessary to fall right in step with the characters, who are recognizable yet have enough individual traits to make them real. Both actresses know their roles intimately, their chemistry filling the screen with a winning combination of likeability and contrast. While van de Wijdeven has the flashier role, it’s Hassouni (winner of the 2008 “Shooting Star” prize for young actors), with her quiet, considered depth, who really registers.
Credit for knowing how to appeal to the younger set while keeping focused on serious issues goes partly to scripter Robert Alberdingk Thijm, who also wrote the TV series. Shots of the Moroccan landscape are pretty without aiming for more; lensing by Bert Pot (“Kicks,” also starring Hassouni) consistently achieves a sunny warmth suitable to the pic’s generally positive energy.