The Idol

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Priyanka Ku­mar

THE IDOL, drama, not rated, in Ara­bic with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles

For a tal­ented singer trapped in Pales­tine, in­ter­na­tional suc­cess can be an im­pos­si­ble dream. The Idol is based on the true story of pop singer Mo­hammed As­saf, who trav­eled from a refugee camp in Gaza to Cairo in or­der to com­pete in the TV show Arab Idol. Af­ter wit­ness­ing As­saf’s un­stop­pable rise up the con­test’s hi­er­ar­chy, one Arab

Idol judge nick­named him “the Rocket.” The United Na­tions later named him a good­will am­bas­sador. Os­car-nom­i­nated di­rec­tor Hany Abu-As­sad de­liv­ers a highly watch­able film, which, to its credit, re­lies on a strong emo­tional back story — rather than As­saf’s celebrity — to draw us in.

Early in the film, four chil­dren, in­clud­ing Mo­hammed (Qais Atal­lah) and his sis­ter Nour (Hiba Atal­lah), strug­gle to ac­quire mu­si­cal in­stru­ments for their fledg­ling band. In a stand­out per­for­mance by Atal­lah, Nour is the band’s gui­tarist and man­ager rolled into one. The tween band has barely launched it­self with wed­ding gigs when Nour col­lapses on stage. She is di­ag­nosed with kid­ney fail­ure and will need ei­ther a weekly dial­y­sis or a kid­ney trans­plant at a pro­hib­i­tive cost of $15,000. Mo­hammed’s ef­fort to use his tal­ent as a singer to pro­cure money for a trans­plant is un­suc­cess­ful, and Nour’s sub­se­quent death dev­as­tates him.

Seven years later, Mo­hammed is a dis­sat­is­fied youth (Tawfeek Barhom) who drives a taxi in or­der to pay his univer­sity tuition. How he goes from this un­en­vi­able po­si­tion to com­pet­ing for the ti­tle of “Arab Idol” is the main thrust of the story. Along the way, we see tal­ented young Pales­tini­ans liv­ing among rub­ble and elec­tric­ity fail­ures. As­saf has rightly as­sessed that he needs to get out. His voice is beau­ti­ful enough to melt the heart of a wary im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer. But there are oth­ers, not as tal­ented, who will re­main hemmed in.

The cin­e­matog­ra­phy is re­al­is­tic, not gritty, and this strat­egy works to pull us in and help us iden­tify with the char­ac­ters. The film falls some­what short on com­plex­ity: It refers to the Pales­tinian prob­lem and shows us the rub­ble but doesn’t get much be­yond that. In one in­ter­est­ing ex­change, Mo­hammed’s for­mer band­mate (from the tween band), now a re­li­gious man, re­fuses to help Mo­hammed get to Egypt be­cause a TV show that fea­tures singing could only dis­tract from God’s work. Mo­hammed chal­lenges him by ask­ing why God would be against singing. The ques­tion goes unan­swered. In real life, As­saf sings a mix of Ara­bic love songs and pa­tri­otic Pales­tinian hymns, and the songs in the film are sim­i­lar to those. In a re­gion sorely in need of good news, As­saf shows that even im­pos­si­ble dreams can some­times come true.

Mo­hammed As­saf; top, ac­tor Tawfeek Barhom

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