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Roads Lead to Rome

Super lighthearted Lebanese comedy about sauntering nuns smitten with a young actor cast to play the Pope caters mostly for Arab sensibilities - from the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival


Hady (Shadi Haddad) is a young and handsome television actor profoundly dissatisfied with his professional life. He abruptly ends his latest gig after being made to perform the same scene for the 50th time. Despite his frustrations, he is recognised in every corner of the nation, with fans always ready to flirt or to ask for a selfie with the charming male. One day, he receives a phone call informing him that he is one of the two final actors shortlisted to play the Pope in an upcoming film production. He gets ready to travel to Italy for the final audition, in the hope to make it big on the silver screen and internationally. He’s advised that he’s due to star alongside Anthony Hopkins (presumably in a reference to Fernando de Meirelles’s 2019 The Two Popes, in which the Welsh actor indeed plays Pope Benedict).

Before Chady departs, he embarks on a short trip to North Lebanon, where his car breaks down and he serendipitously meets a a beautiful young woman called Celine (Ruba Zarour). He’s rescued by a troupe of four sauntering nuns with impressive mechanical skills, one of them happening to be Celine’s sister. Hady spends a few days with the five women in the local monastery, a gorgeous stone building perched on the of a dramatic mountain range. The mother superior becomes vaguely infatuated with the charms of the famous thespian. But this isn’t Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus (1947), with a raunchy and murderous sister dressed in red. The four religious women are constantly giggling and dancing, their puerile attitude more akin to Sister Act (Emile Ardoline), the American even briefly mentioned in a conversation.

Roads Lead to Rome is a feel-good comedy that will might not resonate amongst Western viewers. There is barely any conflict. The humour is entirely harmless and puerile, catering for audiences with a very different sensibility. It will win the hearts of Arabs and perhaps Bollywood. Even Sister Act is comparatively way too subversive, with the topics of gangster, prostitution, and the occasional strong language thrown in. The mere kiss in the lips is taboo-breaking here. The movie received a PG12 certificate from Saudi authorities, a disclaimer noting that it may contain “violence, sadness and extreme fictionalisation”. If these parameters were applied to Ardoline’s movie, the happy-go-nun classic would probably earn an R18 rating.

It must be noted that this 89-minute film was directed and written by women, Lara Saba and Josephine Habachi respectively. This is one of the 35 movies made by female filmmakers this year at the Red Sea International Film Festival. The event takes place in Saudi Arabia, a country where just five years ago women were not allowed to drive. It is refreshing that they are now not only permitted but also encouraged to operate both a vehicle and a movie camera.

Roads Lead to Rome just premiered at the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival. The red carpet event took place at the luxurious Galas Theatre.

By Victor Fraga - 03-12-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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