From the strip to the stars
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.