From the strip to the stars

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - TARA BRADY

THE IDOL Di­rected by Hany Abu-As­sad. Star­ring Tawfeek Barhom, Kais At­ta­lah, Hiba At­ta­lah, Ah­mad Qasem, Ab­del Ka­reem Barakeh. PG, se­lect re­lease, 99mins Mo­hammed (Qais Atal­lah) and his tomboy-and-proud sis­ter Nour (the mar­vel­lous Hiba Atal­lah) are stuck in Gaza but dream of per­form­ing at Cairo Opera House. Mo­hammed does have a re­mark­able set of pipes, but procur­ing in­stru­ments and learn­ing to play pro­vide the sib­lings and their tear­away friends with plenty of ob­sta­cles to over­come. Their ear­li­est ef­forts are met with a bucket of wa­ter and a re­minder that “Peo­ple are dy­ing and you’re singing!” Oth­ers object to the no­tion of a girl mu­si­cian.

It gets worse. Nour suf­fers from kid­ney fail­ure, leav­ing Mo­hammed to tough it out as a solo act. We jump to 2010 when the charis­matic Tawfeek Barhom as­sumes the tit­u­lar role. He still has a voice that ev­ery­one her­alds as a “gift from God” but does he have the mad free-run­ning skills re­quired to get to the Arab Idol au­di­tion in Cairo?

This heart-warm­ing, quasi­fic­tion­alised biopic is based on the true story of Mo­hammed As­saf, the Pales­tinian singer who snuck across bor­ders with dodgy doc­u­ments and who went on to tri­umph in the se­cond sea­son of Arab Idol.

Ac­cord­ingly, di­rec­tor Hany Abu-As­sad makes ter­rific use of archival footage of cheer­ing crowds on the streets of Gaza. Su­per­fi­cially, this is rather froth­ier than the film­maker’s pre­vi­ous work on Par­adise Now and Omar. But bring on the cheese, as it proves an ir­re­sistible story of the couldn’t-make-it-up va­ri­ety, re­plete with a huge punch-the-air de­noue­ment. It never mat­ters that we can divine the out­come. Ehab As­sal’s mes­meris­ingly rest­less cam­era and a gag­gle of spir­ited per­for­mances en­sure there’s never dull mo­ment be­fore the fi­nal bow.

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