‘Monsieur Ibrahim’ sends a message of tolerance

Omar Sharif in a still from Monsieur IbrahimOne movie that we saw last week and enjoyed tremendously, is a film that sends a clear message of tolerance. In light of the wanton number of "intolerant" incidents we seem to hear about on a daily basis, this movie came as a breath of fresh air. Dubbed Monsieur Ibrahim, the film stars highly-acclaimed Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.

The French production tells the story of a teenage Jewish boy who befriends the Muslim owner of a grocery store in the seedy part of a predominately Jewish neighborhood in Paris. With Sharif as teacher, over time their relationship develops to become an inseparable bond. Parts of the movie are shot in Istanbul — the lovely city we chose for our honeymoon — something which made the movie even more enjoyable for us.

In a nutshell, Monsieur Ibrahim (also called Monsieur Ibrahim and the flowers of the Quran) is a tale about growing up, the importance of family, friendship and tolerance with some surprising deviations. The film, which is beautifully shot and deftly scripted, is definitely a must-see. For those living in the US, we got the movie through the wonderful Netflix. Regardless of how, go get a copy and make your day.

‘The Syrian Bride’: Far-fetched ideas of coexistence?

A still from 'The Syrian Bride'Ironically enough, amid the bloodshed taking place in the Middle East as Arabs and Israelis again engage in a vicious conflict that has innocent civilians paying the price, we watched a movie about tolerance. The Syrian Bride, born from the joint efforts of Israeli and Palestinian movie makers, depicts the strife of the Druze community living in the occupied Golan Heights. Recognized neither by Israel nor Syria as citizens, the Druze carry an "identified" citizenship. The movie revolves around a Druze woman on her wedding day. Her conundrum is that she is engaged to Syrian who lives on the other side of the fence, thereby mandating a wedding on the border between Israel and Syria and the loss of her ability to return to the Golan. Getting the proper exist visa and finally reuniting with her husband proves a nightmare, as both Israeli and Syrian officials employ tedious bureaucratic snafus that highlight the harsh reality this community endures on a daily basis.

Beirut destroyed The movie is filled with great scenery, engaging conversations and an extremely compelling storyline. It sheds light on the Syrian Druze plight, which, for some reason, is neglected by the mainstream media. We chose the film because somewhere deep inside, we hope Arabs and Israelis can peaceably coexist one day. This beautiful movie was one small-scale product of such a peaceable coexistence. Looking at the latest developments in Lebanon, though, such coexistence seems highly unlikely. The civilian death toll in Lebanon so far is 212; Israel: 12 (Source: From Beirut to the Beltway). At this point coexistence seems far fetched. Perhaps joint movie production is as far as we can get at this point. What a sad reality!

The repercussions of banning ‘The Da Vinci Code’

A still from 'The Da Vinci Code'As expected, the proposed banning of the controversial film version of the book The Da Vinci Code in Jordan has increased interest in the film. Here is an excerpt from a Jordan Times article:

…shops selling pirated DVDs in downtown Amman are awash with copies of the controversial film, which is based on the controversial blockbuster novel of the same name by American writer Dan Brown. DVD shop owners say customers are showing "unusual" interest in the movie. "The first batch of movies I brought was sold out in less than an hour. Customers are eager to know why this movie attracted so much attention," said one shop owner, who refused to give his name.

Meanwhile, Egypt is exercising still tougher measures. According to AP:

Police seized 2,000 pirated DVDs of "The Da Vinci Code" on Saturday, and the Egyptian Coptic Christian church demanded the film be banned in Egypt. The film has not been shown here and the government has not yet decided whether to permit it. Police arrested the owner of a local movie production company when they discovered he had 2,000 pirated DVDs of the film, a police source said…

I understand why the Council of Churches in Jordan would ask for the film to be banned, as it challenges some basic foundations of Christianity. However, the Council should recognize that in this day and time nearly anything is going to be accessible in one form or another. Banning the movie has done nothing but arouse the curiosity of the public. Instead of banning it, the Council could have arranged seminars to counter the allegations found in the movie, based upon a largely acknowledged fictional novel. In the US, some evangelists decided to go positive with their approach. According to the Economist:

… many other Christians, particularly evangelicals, are taking a different approach. For them the film provides a golden opportunity to get people talking about Christian subjects. Some churches are giving away tickets along with Starbucks vouchers to encourage post-film discussion. The Campus Crusade for Christ has printed 1m copies of its guide to the code. This Sunday, thousands of preachers across the country will be addressing Mr Brown’s book.

One reason why evangelicals are embracing Mr Brown is that shunning proved such a disaster with Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. All the outrage and marches simply made Christians look bigoted and silly, and brought a tedious film much publicity. But there are two more positive reasons.

I watched the movie last week and I personally thought it dragged and failed to fully engage me. I thought it concentrated heavily on the theoretical and failed to invest in visual elements. The book was by far more engaging. Neither the book nor the movie has made me question the basic foundations of Christianity. But I went there with full knowledge that the movie narrates a fictional tale. Anyway, that’s my two cents. Here is what Sandmonkey thought of the movie.

A few thoughts on ‘United 93’

A still from 'United 93'United 93, which details the story of the fourth plane hijacked on 9/11 that crashed in Pennsylvania, is a powerful, extremely intense and very heart-wrenching film. It plays just like a documentary, without pinpointing villains or heroes. It tells –- or attempts to tell — the story as it happened. It is the story of the tragic deaths of the passengers of United flight 93 who perished due to the acts of kidnappers that believed they were executing a divine mission. I might be mistaken but I have a feeling that the movie might not be shown in the Arab world, as some might be offended by scenes where the kidnappers recite religious passages. Here is what renowned film critic Roger Ebert had to say about this:

The film begins on a black screen, and we hear one of the hijackers reading aloud from the Koran. There are scenes of the hijackers at prayer, and many occasions when they evoke God and dedicate themselves to him. These details may offend some viewers, but are almost certainly accurate; the hijacking and destruction of the four planes was carried out as a divine mission. That the majority of Muslims disapprove of terrorism goes without saying; on 9/12, there was a candlelight vigil in Iran for the United States. That the terrorists found justification in religion also goes without saying.

Most nations at most times go into battle evoking the protection of their gods. But the film doesn’t depict the terrorists as villains. It has no need to. Like everyone else in the movie they are people of ordinary appearance, going about their business. "United 93" is incomparably more powerful because it depicts all of its characters as people trapped in an inexorable progress toward tragedy. The movie contains no politics. No theory. No personal chit-chat. No patriotic speeches. We never see the big picture.

I personally believe the movie should be screened worldwide, as it brings to life the evil face of terrorism that, sadly enough, is still condoned by a small minority. I also found it intriguing that the movie made a point of refuting widely spread allegations that the plane was shot down by the US military. The movie ends with facts proving the plane actually did crash. One fact highlighted in the film is that the military was unaware that United 93 was hijacked until after it crashed. Please bear in mind that director Paul Greengrass is not American. He is British. Meanwhile, Tunisian blogger Leilouta has an interesting post about the conspiracy theories that are resurfacing following the release of the film. She says:

Talk surrounding this movie has brought up many of the conspiracy theories we are so famous for in the Arab world. Specifically the conspiracy that says it was not a plane that hit the Pentagon but some US/Israel plot. Because they didn’t see the plane hit the Pentagon they assume that it must be a conspiracy. My husband even heard this in Tunisia. It also doesn’t help when some French author takes advantage of these views and writes a book to make money and get famous off this tragedy.

Many people in this area know what happened that day because someone they know was on that plane or was on the ground helping with the rescue effort or was in the building. My husband is one of them. A woman from the company he worked for was on the plane. She left behind a husband and two teenage daughters. Before anyone tries to comment with a different theory maybe you could go to a firehouse in Virginia and tell your theory to them or try asking anyone who was at the Pentagon that day.

On the flip side Jordanian blogger Bakkouz is quite angry with the movie. All in all, I would recommend this film in a heartbeat.

Celebrating ‘Rana’s Wedding’

A still from Rana's wedding
We just finished watching Hani Abu Asad’s Rana’s Wedding, and what a delight it was. The movie, which was made in 2002, tells the story of a young Palestinian woman who is madly in love and desperately wants to get married to the man of her dreams before 4 PM.

While pursuing her desires, Rana faces many hurdles stemming from both the traditions of her society and Israeli occupation. The movie’s ultimate message is that happiness can still be attained regardless of the circumstances life throws at you. Rana’s Wedding is definitely a must see! Two thumbs up at the Tynes house! I have to admit, though, the movie made me incredibly homesick. It is worth noting that this film was made available to us through the incredbile library of Netflix. At this stage of my life, I can’t seem to recall life before Netflix. What an amazing service.

Movie chatter

A scene from Match Point When I feel like the world is going down the drain — something that I have been sensing quite often lately — I turn to the movies. For me, films provide an especially needed escapism. My movie obsession began at an early age, from that point driving many around me crazy, particularly my mother. My addiction was emboldened after I tied the knot with another proud movie buff. Watching films is our favorite past time. We rent, buy and discuss movies constantly. Those following Mental Mayhem may have noticed that cinematic discussions are an integral part of this blog. Well, enough rambling. Let’s talk movies. We have seen a number of good films lately, thanks laregly to Netflix. Here is my take on a few of them:

  1. Match Point: This Woodey Allen movie is simply brilliant. I fully enjoyed both the acting and the story, which uses tennis to explore the irony that is life! Two thumbs way up!
  2. La Communidad: A Spanish black comedy that takes place primarily in an apartment complex in Madrid. As one movie critic said, La Communidad is a mesh between the works of Hitchock and Almodovar.
  3. Kinsey: A film following the life story of an entomologist who decides to study the sexual habits of humans, the scientist, Kinsey, undertakes unorthodox research methods, which prove shocking at times. This is not exactly a family flick and might not be a good choice for conservative viewers.
  4. Me, you and everyone we know: This independent flick is not your usual viewing, proving entertaining but shocking at times. If you are like me and currently traumatized by the events in the Middle East, then this movie is a wonderful distraction from the madness around you.
  5. Lord of War: Nicholas Cage is fanstastic in this intese drama about the corrupt world of international arms sales. I would definitely watch this movie again.