A couple in 1970s London is taking pictures at a photo booth. It's not just an attempt to capture a moment for the pair, but a task they need to complete for their immigration application. Mina is preoccupied with making sure the photo is perfect, and she worries that Feras isn't taking it seriously, especially with Mina pregnant with their child.
As they try to get the picture right, their playful banter turns into bickering, and then a full-blown argument, which reveals the tension they face separately as non-white Londoners and the obstacles they face as a mixed-race couple. But it also reveals their loyalty, devotion and love for one another, and their promise as a couple and a family.
Written and directed by Roxy Rezvany, this poignant romance short takes one small moment in a couple's life together and magnifies it, revealing rich layers of meaning and emotion. There are the immediate circumstances of a young couple expecting a baby together, with all its excitement and challenges. But through multi-dimensional dialogue and stellar performances, social commentary is layered into the couple's story, offering a window into the ways that race, immigration and being an outsider complicate lives.
The film is essentially one static camera set-up, shot with a warm yet weathered look of an old, faded photograph. The action unfurls in one real-time take, as Mina and Feras struggle to get a decent picture taken, an approach that puts the focus on the pair and their dynamic together. At first, it seems a domestic squabble, with Mina taking issue with Feras's casual appearance and attitude. But as they talk, they reveal their frustrations as an Asian woman and a Middle Eastern man, as they both face stereotypes that often demean and dehumanize them. By contrast, they reveal the full spectrum of their quirks and humanity in the neutral space of the photo booth, with preoccupations, emotions and vulnerabilities just like anyone else.
The writing's social insights are sharp and specific, but what also comes through is the couple's deep love and affection for one another. Actors Lorraine Tai and Elham Ehsas are both appealing presences, and their connection as the couple at the center of the story is palpable. As individual actors, they both weave in moments of doubt, anger and worry as they confront the possibility of separation, just as their union becomes essential to their future family. As a couple, the pair of actors make it easy to root for Mina and Feras to make it through the immigration process, despite all its bureaucratic red tape and subtly demeaning demands.
In many ways, "Photo Booth," with its 1970s time period, is a story of first-generation immigration, as a couple navigates the demands of a system that has yet to reveal all its flaws and weaknesses. But it is also a love story, of a couple eager to start the next chapter together. It's a chapter full of promise and excitement, and yet the possibility of separation looms over them, casting a shadow of what should be an exciting, happy time. It's a testament to the storytelling and performances that we wonder what became of the pair after our short time with them -- from their future joys of starting a family to the anxieties that plague them, and perhaps future generations.