Monday, February 11, 2008

With Faith and a Pure Heart

By Bruce Bennet - The New York Sun - New York, NY, USA
Friday, February 8, 2008

"He who has faith will never get lost," offers the titular Sufi mystic at the center of Nacer Khemir's "Bab'Aziz," a new film opening today at Cinema Village.

Blind and crossing the desert in the company of his game but very young granddaughter Ishtar (Maryam Hamid), and in search of the undisclosed location of a mass spiritual gathering of other dervishes, it would appear that Bab'Aziz (Parviz Shahinkhou) will need all the faith he can muster.

But the venerable holy man has a pure heart big enough to accommodate the varied star-crossed travelers he and Ishtar encounter on their pilgrimage. What's more, he has a memory. When Ishtar asks her grandfather to tell her a story about a gazelle, he begins spinning an allegorical whopper about a prince who becomes obsessed by his reflection on the surface of a well.

The episodic pace of the prince's story matches the two pilgrims' progress, and as they meet and befriend others along the way, echoes of the prince's search for his own soul in a deep pool of water reverberate in the real tales of those they encounter.

Mr. Khemir and cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari spare no effort to turn the natural glory of their location to the film's advantage. Much of the imagery in "Bab'Aziz" — a lamp-lit search for a lost child silhouetted at dusk, the cloth minaret of a royal tent topping a sand dune like a crown — is quite beguiling.

Chock full of lofty god's-eye-views of characters making tracks in the sand and painstakingly composed horizons that seem to recede into the narratively commingled past, "Bab'Aziz" is not a film for home video.

When it does arrive at Blockbuster, employees familiar with the film may be tempted to file it as a musical. With arrangements by Israeli-born composer Armand Amar, "Bab'Aziz" is a treasure trove of non-European traditional Middle Eastern music. Characters sing, Sufi musicians play both on-screen and off, and the ecstatic, spinning dances of the dervishes, whirling around with one hand extended upward to heaven and the other pointing down to the earth, are indeed spectacular.

Written "with the participation of" frequent Antonioni collaborator Tonino Guerra, "Bab'Aziz" seeks to introduce Western audiences to Islamic traditions and folklore having little to do with what's shown on CNN.

Individually, the film's multiple stories are all diverting and attractively peopled. Ms. Hamid adds much as Ishtar, whose curiosity and naïveté help to emphasize that the film's journey is really one long destination.

Messrs. Khemir and Guerra are nevertheless somewhat stingy with all the latent story energy they have at their command. Long and sedate enough to become familiar and elliptical by the end, "Bab'Aziz" is a lovely spiritual meander that keeps a smile on its face and never fails to put its best foot forward.

1 comment:

darvish said...

I can't wait to go see it :) I have heard a lot of good things about, and it is a Sufi film, which is a rare thing in itself :)

Ya Haqq!

Monday, February 11, 2008

With Faith and a Pure Heart
By Bruce Bennet - The New York Sun - New York, NY, USA
Friday, February 8, 2008

"He who has faith will never get lost," offers the titular Sufi mystic at the center of Nacer Khemir's "Bab'Aziz," a new film opening today at Cinema Village.

Blind and crossing the desert in the company of his game but very young granddaughter Ishtar (Maryam Hamid), and in search of the undisclosed location of a mass spiritual gathering of other dervishes, it would appear that Bab'Aziz (Parviz Shahinkhou) will need all the faith he can muster.

But the venerable holy man has a pure heart big enough to accommodate the varied star-crossed travelers he and Ishtar encounter on their pilgrimage. What's more, he has a memory. When Ishtar asks her grandfather to tell her a story about a gazelle, he begins spinning an allegorical whopper about a prince who becomes obsessed by his reflection on the surface of a well.

The episodic pace of the prince's story matches the two pilgrims' progress, and as they meet and befriend others along the way, echoes of the prince's search for his own soul in a deep pool of water reverberate in the real tales of those they encounter.

Mr. Khemir and cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari spare no effort to turn the natural glory of their location to the film's advantage. Much of the imagery in "Bab'Aziz" — a lamp-lit search for a lost child silhouetted at dusk, the cloth minaret of a royal tent topping a sand dune like a crown — is quite beguiling.

Chock full of lofty god's-eye-views of characters making tracks in the sand and painstakingly composed horizons that seem to recede into the narratively commingled past, "Bab'Aziz" is not a film for home video.

When it does arrive at Blockbuster, employees familiar with the film may be tempted to file it as a musical. With arrangements by Israeli-born composer Armand Amar, "Bab'Aziz" is a treasure trove of non-European traditional Middle Eastern music. Characters sing, Sufi musicians play both on-screen and off, and the ecstatic, spinning dances of the dervishes, whirling around with one hand extended upward to heaven and the other pointing down to the earth, are indeed spectacular.

Written "with the participation of" frequent Antonioni collaborator Tonino Guerra, "Bab'Aziz" seeks to introduce Western audiences to Islamic traditions and folklore having little to do with what's shown on CNN.

Individually, the film's multiple stories are all diverting and attractively peopled. Ms. Hamid adds much as Ishtar, whose curiosity and naïveté help to emphasize that the film's journey is really one long destination.

Messrs. Khemir and Guerra are nevertheless somewhat stingy with all the latent story energy they have at their command. Long and sedate enough to become familiar and elliptical by the end, "Bab'Aziz" is a lovely spiritual meander that keeps a smile on its face and never fails to put its best foot forward.

1 comment:

darvish said...

I can't wait to go see it :) I have heard a lot of good things about, and it is a Sufi film, which is a rare thing in itself :)

Ya Haqq!