My Beautiful Laundrette

My Beautiful Laundrette ★★★★½

released in 1985, my beautiful laundrette is one true marvel simply by the fact it exists. it tackles issues as xenophobia, class and generational differences, all naturally interwoven and treated with elegance and sincerity, although never falling into the easy traps of condescension or melodrama.

the film presents events as incidental, 
never making the characters victims or putting them as direct opposites. it instead offers indirect explanations for their wrongdoings, incoherences and ambiguities. it doesn’t pose ready, biased analysis for the problems and situations happening on screen.

the central character is omar, a second generation immigrant who’s living in the threshold of two cultures, too british to be a pakistani, too pakistani to be british. he lives taking care of his bedridden father, who was once an influential journalist but never recovered from his wife’s suicide. when offered the opportunity to take a job with his more financially driven uncle, omar grabs it with both hands, filled with vigor and desire to make money and not give in to the gloomy stagnancy of thatcher’s britain.

this job kicks off a deeper interaction with his extended family, which displays the many conflicts faced by immigrants and his children, both internally and externally. the first generation, the uncles and aunts, are all strongly committed to each other, unlike their children who were born in a place that’s not entirely foreign to them. at one point this is made cristal clear, when omar asks about relatives who still live in pakistan and requests for people to speak in english since he doesn’t know their native urdu. they’re well off though, and the film accurately shows how money is the way to buy social ascent but doesn’t bypass xenophobia.

despite the strained relations between omar’s father and uncle, caused by their different views on politics and economy and if it’s right for one to abandon their culture in exchange of financial success, the family’s traditional values make omar valuable in that environment. that’s only possible because his uncle doesn’t have sons to take over his business, so this hard working young man seems heaven sent, leading to him getting more and more involved with this world.

after being assigned to take care of one of his uncles low profit laundrettes, omar accidentally meets an old school friend, johnny, whom he knew since childhood and got distant from because of johnny getting involved with the national front. now he’s turned into a lonely homeless punk, dislocated from his peers for not agreeing with their violent behaviour and marginalised in society for his unemployment. 

johnny’s lack of possessions or belonging is a perfect point for a new relationship to blossom, now romantically, although the film never discloses how it really began. even with a different dynamic between them, with omar being the boss (a superior status that’s used in moments of vindictiveness) that somehow doesn’t bring disagreement, instead they both understand this is their chance to achieve something better so they are fiercely loyal to each other and their plans. the combination of omar’s eager willingness and johnny’s quiet devotion is one of the most touching combinations cinema could ever provide.

even with their own different worlds pulling them apart, the laundrette’s whimsical baby blue is the colour of a safe space in which omar and johnny can be who they want to be, the first not affected by his overbearing family’s expectations and situation, and the latter not constantly reminded of the outside world’s misery, violence and his part in it. it’s a place for dreaming, where can be together to calm down after the storm, to wash the blood from their clothes, forget their mistakes and just be in love together.

9/10 — the neck licking scene took my breath away too but can we talk about how johnny calls omar “omo”? like the soap and homo at the same time?

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