SXSW 2020 Review: Sworn to Protect, A Cop Brings Pain to Himself in Iram Parveen Bilal’s Compelling “I’ll Meet You There”

“Brown people never say what they mean,” Majeed (Faran Tahir), a Pakistani police officer tells his partner Matt (Shawn Parsons) on the Chicago force early in “I’ll Meet You There,” engaged in a little subterfuge himself explaining away why he won’t call his brother back. Surely not wanting to bring his personal life into his professional one, it still would’ve behooved Majeed to take the call, soon finding out that it was likely a warning that their father Baba (Muhammad Qavi Khan) was crossing the Atlantic to see his college-aged granddaughter Dua (Nikita Tewani) 12 years after Majeed stopped talking to him, following the death of Dua’s mother Fatima.

Writer/director Iram Parveen Bilal gradually reveals the particulars of why the two ceased communications, but what proves to be more interesting is how Majeed has long kept details of any of this from his daughter out of an abundance of caution, putting whatever pain it inflicts on him to side to serve others. Undoubtedly, it’s those same instincts that led him to become a cop in a country that has hardly been welcoming to him and Bilal locates a fascinating character study in observing how as much as Majeed might to free himself and his daughter from both their relatively recent tragedy and their inherited cultural legacy by focusing squarely on the future, there can be repercussions for denying the past and it makes every day a tightrope walk for immigrants who find out there’s really no such thing as starting a new life in America, at least entirely.

Making for a strong double bill with Assia Boundaoui’s Illinois-set documentary “The Feeling of Being Watched,” the film sees Majeed assigned to infiltrate a local mosque at the behest of the FBI following a series of bombings to track their charitable donations, which American intelligence believes might be rerouted to terrorist causes. Having not gone to pray in some time, the devout Baba’s arrival is fortuitous in terms of giving Majeed cover to attend services and conduct an investigation, but leaves him keeping an eye as much on his grandfather as on suspected criminal activity at the mosque when Baba starts needling Dua about never having learned Arabic or even reading a translated version of the Koran. Dua has hardly needed the encouragement to embrace her cultural roots, dedicating herself to Kathak dancing like her mother, which could be her ticket to Julliard. Yet after clearly benefiting from her father giving her the space to forge her own identity free of outside influence, it becomes an intriguing development when her independence leads her back to learning more about a religion from Baba that Majeed feels is cancerous as currently practiced by extremists.

“I’ll Meet You There” comes with the understanding that as everyone on screen steps over eggshells, Bilal is treading just as fine a line articulating the complexities of the Muslim-American experience, sensitive to the religion and finding the beauty within it while observing how interpretation of its teachings has been used to divide as much as unite – often times within just one person, as exemplified by Majeed. She has an easier time reconciling the demands of both cultures than he does, delivering an entertaining drama that leans into Hollywood conventions of police procedurals and rebellious dance movies (think “Footloose”) renewed and enriched by its proudly Pakistani details. In telling the story of how the world won’t let you put the past behind you, Bilal provides a glimpse of the future that we should all want.

“I’ll Meet You There” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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