Sabah (film)

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Directed by Ruba Nadda
Produced by Tracey Boulton
Atom Egoyan
Simone Urdl
Written by Ruba Nadda
Starring Arsinée Khanjian
Shawn Doyle
Jeff Seymour
Kathryn Winslow
Cinematography Luc Montpellier
Edited by Teresa Hannigan
Distributed by Mongrel Media
Release dates
  • 2005 (2005)
Language English

Sabah (Arabic: صباح‎) is a 2005 film directed by Ruba Nadda. The film stars Arsinée Khanjian as Sabah, a traditional Muslim woman living in Toronto. She falls in love with Stephen, a non-Muslim Canadian man (played by Shawn Doyle). The movie had the alternate title Coldwater.[1]


Ruba Nadda stated that she got the inspiration to make the film after observing a veiled Muslim woman on a public bus and wondering how she would have dealt with her sexual feelings, and then, how she would have managed affairs if she became infatuated with a non-Muslim man. Nadda had the concept of a "very western looking man" and a woman wearing a hijab kissing "in the middle of the street."[2] As the idea gestated, Nadda decided to use an older woman as the protagonist since such a character is limited by the already set-in-stone household roles and because such a woman may feel that a forbidden relationship would be her final chance for love; Nadda reasoned that the fear may tempt the woman into having an illicit affair.[2]

Telefilm provided funding for the film, and Nadda enlisted the support of Atom Egoyan and Simone Urdl;[2] the two became the film's executive producers in April 2002 after approving the script. Nadda spent two months in New York City to study film production.[3]

Sabah was filmed in Toronto. Nadda had only 20 days to complete principal photography of this project.[citation needed] Nadda stated that she wanted to portray Toronto as being a beautiful city, contrasting with a gritty depiction found in other works.[4] Luc Montpellier served as the film's lenser. Deborah Young of Variety stated that the film has "an attractive, brightly colored look."[1] Nadda intentionally omitted any references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the September 11, 2001 attacks, other acts of terrorism, and any resulting sentiment and actions against Arab Canadians.[4]


Sabah is a 40-year-old single immigrant from Syria living in Toronto with her family. She is responsible for her mother's well-being. Since her father's death, her brother Majid has been the family authority figure.

His niece, Souhaire, does not want him choosing her husband. His marriage is rocky, and he insists on tradition. Sabah decides to start swimming again; an activity not allowed by Majid. At a city swimming pool she meets Stephen; they're attracted to each other.

Because he's not a Muslim, Sabah hides their friendship from her family.

With passage of time, their relationship gets deep and at one point they share a kiss. Sabah's niece teaches her belly dancing which Sabah enjoys. One day, while visiting Stephen at his carpenter workshop, she decides to stay overnight with him. Informing her mother that she won't be back that night, she dances and has sex with him.

The next day, as she returns home, she faces her mother, brother, sister, sister-in-law and niece who are anxiously waiting for her. After some hesitation, she tells them the truth about her doings in the last few months. Majid responds by announcing that Sabah is no longer a part of the family, as Muslim traditions forbid marriage for Muslim women to non-Muslims. Sabah leaves and Majid decides to take care of their mother.

At Stephen's workshop, Sabah is met by her mother, sister and sister-in-law who insist that she speak to Majid. Majid tells her that the money their father left had run out eight years ago and he is supporting the family himself. Eventually both agree that the family must change. The women of the family are impressed by Stephen and his deep blue eyes.

The film ends with a feast at Sabah's family home. Stephen is mingling with his in-laws and everyone is having a good time.

Young stated that Sabah's family previously had "drawn" a "hard line" so the "[T]urnaround ending, though comically inevitable, seems dramatically forced".[1]


  • Sabah - Arsinée Khanjian
    • Nadda stated that she asked Khanjian to perform the role because Khanjian was the only actress Nadda envisioned in the role of Sabah and because Nadda enjoyed Khanjian's work.[5]
  • Stephen Montpellier - Shawn Doyle
    • Khanjian suggested using Doyle as the actor to portray Stephen.[6] Young stated that Stephen's "natural reactions to the surprises in their relationship make him a measuring stick for [Sabah's] family's off-centeredness".[1]
  • Majid (Sabah's brother) - Jeff Seymour
    • Young stated that the "macho posturing" of Majid personifies the "harsh, conservative side of Islam".[1]
  • Souhaire - Fadia Nadda
    • A teenager, Souhaire is Sabah's niece. She refuses to take an arranged marriage with a man, but she later falls in love with the said man. Young describes her dismissal of an arranged marriage as a "breakaway" element within Islamic culture, and she described the sudden infatuation with the suitor as "more amusing than real".[1]
  • Umm Mouhammed (Sabah's mother) - Setta Keshishian
  • Amal - Kathryn Winslow
  • Mustafa - David Alpay
  • Shaheera - Roula Said
  • Opera Singer - Mary Lou Fallis
  • Girlfriend - Kaylen Christensen
  • Paramedic - Aaron Abrams

Young stated that in general the supporting characters are "more amusing than real".[1]


In 2006, Khanjian was nominated for "best actress" as part of the 2006 Genie Awards.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Young, Deborah. "Coldwater" (film review) (Archive). Variety. date not stated. p. 28. Retrieved on February 28, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Sabah" (Archive). Mongrel Media. p. 13 Retrieved on February 28, 2015. -- PDF press kit
  3. ^ "Sabah" (Archive). Mongrel Media. p. 14. Retrieved on February 28, 2015. -- PDF press kit
  4. ^ a b "Sabah" (Archive). Mongrel Media. p. 18. Retrieved on February 28, 2015. -- PDF press kit
  5. ^ "Sabah" (Archive). Mongrel Media. p. 13-14. Retrieved on February 28, 2015. -- PDF press kit
  6. ^ "Sabah" (Archive). Mongrel Media. p. 15. Retrieved on February 28, 2015. -- PDF press kit
  7. ^ Dixon, Guy. "Forget the awards. Watch the party." The Globe and Mail. Thursday January 26, 2006. Last updated Tuesday March 17, 2009. Retrieved on February 27, 2015.

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