By Zayn Alexander | Drama
A Lebanese couple living in New York City struggles to achieve their shared dream of breaking into the entertainment industry.

Lebanese actress Rania is preparing for an audition in the apartment she shares with her boyfriend Jad, a fellow Lebanese actor trying to get a foothold in the industry as well. She’s trying to put her lines on tape but struggling with the stereotyping of the role she’s auditioning for.

Her endeavor is interrupted by a marriage proposal by Jad. But as they discuss the wedding, and what happens after, it becomes clear that their expectations and yearnings are both very different, putting the relationship to the test.

Actor-director Zayn Alexander — along with writer and lead actress Pascale Seigneurie — have created a perceptive short romantic drama that ably juggles the specific and the universal, using effective camerawork, excellent acting and emotionally precise writing to explore the push and pull between identity, marriage and ambition, not to mention shining a humorous yet pointed spotlight behind stereotypes.

Essentially a chamber drama taking place over one long scene, the film opens with Rania’s audition as a Muslim terrorist, taking the loaded image of a burqa-covered Muslim woman that populates many films and stories to grab the audience’s attention. But then the film dismantles that image, showing the actual people who play the role and what they wrestle with as they try to play it. And, as it turns out, they’re just trying to create lives full of love and happiness as anyone else.

Actress Pascale Seigneurie plays Rania with wit and intelligence, essaying the role of a modern Middle Eastern woman and artist trying to find creative and emotional fulfillment — just like any other woman in New York trying to live her dream. Despite the struggle, she’s clearly engaged and inspired by pursuing her dream, and it’s hard not to be captivated by her energy and hopefulness.

Actor-director Alexander plays opposite her as Jad, who clearly loves Rania. But he’s also is a different place in life, wearied by the grind, resenting the narrowness of the roles he’s offered and longing for the stability of home. When Rania discovers the engagement ring he has for her, it escalates a conversation about the future that reveals the potential cracks in their marriage.

“Abroad” is a “slice of life” story, a type of narrative that is the bread-and-butter of many short films. These stories offer vignettes of revelation, often forgoing complicated camerawork and visuals in favor of simplicity that puts the focus on the characters, writing and acting. What is especially effective about “Abroad” is how it integrates its cultural specificity into its portrayal of this couple’s conflict, while still resonating as a universal story about love, yearning and fulfillment.

In the end, they’re another couple juggling dreams, values and visions for the future, and trying to negotiate the potentially heart-breaking conflicts that arise between two different people. It’s a conversation that will force them into an almost heart-breaking calculus, one that will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever loved someone, but also realized following their bliss may take them in a different direction.

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