A young Pakistani’s precarious double life as a compliant Muslim daughter and a Westernized young woman falls apart amid post-9/11 ethnic tensions in the British-set “Yasmin.” Largely sustained by a terrific performance from Archie Panjabi in the title role, film is unfortunately weakened by an over-schematic, increasingly simplistic script by “Full Monty” scribe Simon Beaufoy. Honorable attempt to portray life in a Muslim community in northern England in an objective way should score some fest dates thanks to its timely subject matter, though the DV-shot pic will face harder sledding in the commercial arena.
In a very different role from her bitchy, fashion-obsessed sister in “Bend It Like Beckham,” Panjabi plays Yasmin Hussain, who drives a smart new car, and, every day en route to her job as a nurse across the Yorkshire Dales, slips out of her traditional Pakistan duds into Western ones. A young Yorkshire woman with a broad accent and no-nonsense attitude, she is in strong denial of her Pakistani Muslin roots and even refuses to speak Punjabi.
At home, her father, Khalid (Renu Setna), who runs a TV repair shop, despairs of preserving traditional family values, though Yasmin has at least agreed to a no-sex, arranged marriage with the idle Faysal (Shahid Ahmed), a goatherder from a Pakistani village. Away from home, Yasmin has a soft spot for work colleague John (Steve Jackson), an uncomplicated, salt-of-the-earth Yorkshire man.
Ignoring occasional racial sniggers from white colleagues, Yasmin just about seems to have her double life under control until — two reels in — 9/11. She’s suddenly branded an outsider, and even John, more from ignorance than anything else, cools off. When, in a shocking sequence, her house is invaded by armed police, her whole dream of being accepted by local society crumbles.
Film’s background is very specific to the region of England in which it’s set — riots had taken place in the heavily Pakistani-populated towns of Bradford and Oldham just prior to 9/11. In the opening reels, pic wears its agenda lightly, not at the expense of character. Second half, however, is increasingly predictable, with Yasmin rediscovering Islam and her younger brother, Nasir (Syed Ahmed), coming under the sway of fundamentalists.
Scottish helmer Kenny Glenaan’s first feature, the low-budget docu-drama-like “Gas Attack,” suffered from the same simplistic tendencies, though “Yasmin” is still superior in every respect. Aside from Panjabi, perfs are largely fine, with Setna bringing a proud dignity to the father, Jackson spot-on as the putative b.f., and Gary Lewis contribbing a scary cameo as an anti-terrorist detective.
Production design and feel for place are also of a high order. More’s the pity, therefore, pic visually betrays its DV origins in the 35mm transfer.