Review by Sean Boelman
Given recent events, Zeshawn Ali’s new documentary Two Gods deals with some themes that are absolutely very timely and important. Exploring how love and a sense community can conquer the challenges faced by a group of people, this is a very hard-hitting and emotional watch.
The film follows a Muslim casket maker in New Jersey who takes two troubled young men under his wing, teaching them about the ways of their religion and identity. Although the core of the movie explores a particular culture’s views about death and life, there is so much more here that can be seen as representative of greater society.
Arguably the most effective moments of the film are those which explore the young men as they struggle to find a place in the world. On one hand, they face the expectations set forth to them by their family and religion, but find themselves increasingly drawn by a community that is not too conducive for their religious or personal growth.
This is where the movie’s main subject comes in. A flawed person himself, Hanif serves as the best and most compassionate role model that the young men of this community have. Although they sometimes make bad choices (as all kids do at that age), Hanif is there to turn their mistakes into teachable moments that will help them become a more responsible person.
At times, the film does feel like it is pulling a bit too hard on the emotions, but for the most part, it feels brutally real and honest. The problems that the youth of this community are facing are rampant throughout the country, and unfortunately, not everyone has a guiding force like Hanif to help them learn.
One of the most respectable things about this movie is that it provides representation for a community that so often goes underseen in film. There are a lot of myths and prejudices held against the Muslim community, particularly in modern America, and this movie goes a long way in debunking some of those fallacies that the average viewer may hold.
The film is also extremely impressive on a technical level. The movie is shot in gorgeous black-and-white cinematography that is among the most pristine of any documentary this year so far. Even though the things which the camera depicts are often harsh, there is a beauty to be found in the natural processes of life.
Two Gods is a phenomenal debut from director Zeshawn Ali. Addressing the unknown with a message of compassion that people so desperately need to hear, this documentary stands out as one that demands to be seen.
Two Gods is premiering as a part of the online edition of the 2020 Hot Docs Film Festival.