The only problem is an occasionally heavy-handed script. The dialogue itself is snappy and often amusing, particularly Nikki’s many barbs and casual comments, but some scenes feel played out. How many times have we seen a controlling male figure try to dominate a beautiful woman, a monstrous mother denounce her lesbian daughter’s “bad influences”, or try to hook her up with some far-off guy in a photograph? The story itself is well paced and interesting, so the clunky scenes really tend to stick out.
Ultimately, Three Veils is compelling because it really does offer fresh perspectives. Amira and Nikki are fascinating women, shaped by religious and cultural influences to a huge extent, and dealing with very complicated feelings in a confusing world. Amira is queer, and a truly devout Muslim – she takes her traditions to heart, and her feelings for Nikki quickly become a source of confusion for her.
Nikki has serious problems – but she’s also the most fun character to watch. She boozes and does drugs, yet she always manages to be there for her friends and her ailing father, despite a tragic, truly disturbing history. She finds something special in Amira, and she’s not held back by cultural expectations – but that doesn’t necessarily mean she knows what she wants.
The performances are fantastic – of course, Sheetal Sheth is amazing and beautiful (she was a lead in both The World Unseen and I Can’t Think Straight), and Angela Zahra is phenomenal as the conflicted, fundamentally good Amira. It’s impossible not to feel for her, both as the introverted girl who only wants to be accepted and later, as a woman who feels torn between her feelings and her faith.
Leila is a sympathetic presence as well, though it’s her family dynamic that makes her story the most interesting. The daughter of an overbearing, judgmental mother and a loving, understanding father, she wades through territory that is at once treacherous and fascinating. When trouble arises with Ali, it’s dad who recognizes his daughter’s unhappiness first and encourages her to follow her heart – a nice touch and a subversion of the “overbearing male” stereotype that tends to rear its head in lesbian cinema.
It’s clear that a whole lot of love and energy went into this production. Writer/director Rolla Selbak has crafted a story that features young Middle Eastern women dealing with several aspects of culture, religion and the successful navigation of these tricky waters in the world we live in – and the film thrives on its subtle, nuanced core performances. Despite a few mild missteps, Three Veils comes with a hearty recommendation.