As the title suggests, What Will People Say is about expectations, image and reputation. Even more than that though, Iram Haq’s second film is an honest but brutal portrayal of the second-generation immigrant struggle to both fit in and devote oneself to family.
Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) lives a double life – at home, she follows the rules set by her conservative Pakistani family, and outside, she lives like a normal Norwegian teenager. When she is caught with a boy, her parents – under the suggestion of their social circle – force her to move to Pakistan. It’s completely obvious that Nisha doesn’t fit in with her relatives, all too accustomed to life in Norway – when asked why she moved to Pakistan, Nisha says to learn about her parents’ culture. “You mean your culture,” her relative responds. Haq perfectly captures, with devastating effect, the balancing act of identity which children of immigrants experience, where you can never fully categorise yourself as one nationality or the other.
If, sometimes, the film feels more like a thriller – a horror story for any child of immigrants – than an emotional drama, these sudden shifts in tone are made up by Iram Haq’s confident and naturalistic direction, and a stunning performance from Maria Mozhdah, who is capable of emoting her deep sadness without uttering as much as a word. Furthermore, the story is only made even more emotionally powerful by the fact that the antagonism of Nisha’s parents is not straightforward. It’s evident that, like Nisha, they face an internal battle between living up to expectations and the happiness of their daughter.
Handling big questions of immigrant identity with ease, What Will People Say is a wonderfully complex film that, if a bit overly dramatic at times, never seems that unbelievable, only proving to be more heart-shattering.
Public Screenings: Sept 11 4:45 pm, Sept 16 10:00 am