The second feature from director Rolla Selbak, Three Veils (2011) tells the interconnected stories of three young Muslim women living in the US. The film opens with the story of Leila (Mercedes Masöhn), a young girl who finds herself in an arranged marriage with the hot-tempered Ali (Sammy Sheik). We also encounter her troubled friend Nikki (Sheetal Sheth), who we later discover has suffered a family tragedy. Lastly there is Amira (Angela Zahara), a devout Muslim who is struggling to come to terms with her sexuality.
Three Veils ambitiously packs in numerous controversial plots over the three stories, including rape, child abuse and homosexuality – all given a heightened edge by the Muslim context. Disappointingly though, the screenplay (written by Selbak) rushes the drama and under-develops the horrors that the characters face, with the cloying ending is equally unhelpful.
Selbak has rooted her film in the stories of ex-pat Arabic families living in the States. Whilst it’s interesting to see the families in the context of their own communities, there is barely any engagement with the Americanised setting. This seems a major oversight given that the cultural divide must be a major reason why the three woman struggle with harmonising who they are, and what they want to do with their Islamic backgrounds.
This aside, the three actresses give good performances for the most part, conveying the struggles they face. The film’s structure predictably divides into three separate segments with repeated scenes shown from different perspectives. At times this succeeds at showing how each character views the others’ lives, often misunderstanding the tragedies they face. The most interesting story is undoubtedly that of Amira, whose over-bearing mother catches her kissing another girl in her early teens. Amira experiences conflict not only with her family but also with her desire to be a good Muslim.
Despite multiple nagging flaws, with Three Veils Selbak should be commended for giving a voice to young Muslim women struggling to come to terms with both tradition and their own desires.