Gay marriage, Lebanese style

Mouna is a lesbian from a Lebanese family and she has a problem:

"I love my mum, but I can never tell her I'm gay. She'd kill me. Or she would make herself sick and die – and then I'd have killed her. I don't want to break her heart but I'm 35. The only way out of the house is in a wedding dress or a coffin."

Sam is a gay man and he has a problem too:

"What about me? I'm a man and my parents are still telling me what time I have to be home by ... and they are constantly pushing chicks in my face to get married to. There is no way my parents could accept me being gay."

This is the starting point for "I Luv U But" – a gay marriage story with a twist. Lesbian Mouna and gay Sam decide the only way to satisfy their parents' demands is to marry each other. From then on, though, keeping up the pretence while pursuing their separate sexual interests gets more and more complicated.

Just as they are moving into their new "marital" home, with Mouna's butch girlfriend unloading the van, Mouna's mother turns up and the newly-weds hastily try to stash away things she is not meant to see.

Mum, though, is not easily kept at bay. She seems determined to supervise the marriage and ensure that all goes well, both domestically and, er ... sexually. She insists that her daughter must produce for her a grandchild and obtains a special potion that will supposedly do the trick.

In one scene, Sam and a guy he met on Grindr – clad only in underpants – hide under the kitchen table as Mouna's mum appears at the window, checking if anyone is at home.

"I Luv U But" could easily have turned into something dull and worthy. Countless gay and lesbian Arabs face the same agonising dilemma as Mouna and Sam in real life. Many of them contemplate gay-but-not-same-sex marriage as a possible way out, and some actually go through with it.

Fortunately, writer/director Fadia Abboud decided to play it for laughs – which is what makes it so watchable and entertaining. At root, "I Luv U But" is an old-fashioned farce that also mocks old-fashioned attitudes: a farce with a punch.

There have been other Arab film dramas with gay characters and gay storylines but I don't think Arab film-makers have ever produced anything quite like this before: gay-themed throughout and told from a gay perspective. 

There's no doubt that this marks some kind of milestone, and it's causing a stir among gay and lesbian Arabs. "I haven’t been this excited about something gay-related in a long time.," Beirut Boy writes on his blog. "I loved the writing. It’s really funny and real."

Strictly speaking, "I Luv U But" isn't 100% Lebanese. It was filmed in Australia among the Lebanese community there but, in a way, this adds rather than subtracts. It shows that even in the midst of a different culture thousands of miles from Beirut, the habits of the homeland still die hard.

Strictly speaking, "I Luv U But" isn't exactly a film, either. In its current form – still uncompleted – it consists of nine short "episodes" (three or four minutes each) posted on the internet.

Odd as it may sound, this format works brilliantly. Abboud and her team make every second count – and the result is crisp story-telling with some pointed and witty dialogue.

Based in New South Wales, Abboud combines film-making with community work. One of her earlier films was “I Remember 1948” – a collection of personal stories from Palestinians who lost their homes in 1948. She is also one of the founders ofClub Arak and co-director of the Sydney Arab Film Festival.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 20 January 2013.