Tuesday, April 29, 2008
"In the Name of God" from Pakistan may be the most critical look at radical Islam yet, from Islam itself
"In the Name of God" (“Khuda ke liye”), directed by Shoaib Monsoon, is an epic film from Pakistan, and is a centerpiece of FilmfestDC. Tonight (April 29) it sold out at Regal Cinemas in Chinatown in Washington in a large auditorium. The director spoke briefly, about how moderate Muslims take the heat for what radical Islam has done. It was a big success at the Cairo film festival.
The film is long and grand, shot in full 2.35:1. It is mostly in Urdu (with subtitles) and English. Normally, American film studios simulate the Islamic world in Morocco or sometimes Mexico; but this film was made on location, much of it in and around Lahore, and some in the border tribal areas. The Pakistan and Afghanistan scenes were shot in sepia (in a manner reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Mexican scenes in “Traffic”), where as the scenes in London and Chicago are shot in neutral color. The Afghanistan battle scene, from the point of view of Al Qaeda or Taliban fighters, is quite harrowing. There were some mixing problems with the Pakistan scenes, making the voices loud and shrill, and the film was accidentally cropped briefly in a couple of scenes.
The story separates the members of a family and then finally brings them back together, with world politics driving the lives of likeable people. Sarmad (Fawhad Khan) and Mansoor (Shaan) are brothers both with promising skills in music. In an early scene, police break up a Y2K celebration. Mansoor moves to Chicago to go to college, studying music (and the Pakistani keyboard, percussion and voice “folk” music is quite interesting) and meets a young woman who struggles to play Bach on unaccompanied cello. Sarmad stays behind and falls under the influence of a radical mullah who brainwashes him into giving up music as anti-Islam. Their uncle in London resents his daughter Maryam’s (Iman Ali) plans to marry a “white” American Dave (Alex Edwards), although many of the Muslims (especially Sarmad) are every bit as “Caucasian” and could easily pass as Brits themselves. He goes into rants about the right of a father to force his daughter to marry within Islam. He sends his daughter to Pakistan for a forced arranged marriage with Sarmad. Ironically, Sarmad himself is very gentle and does not want to force himself on her. But tribal mullahs force him to give them a child, and harden him to “jihad”. In the meantime, Mansoor is sitting in his apartment when he clicks on to TV and suddenly discovers 9/11 in progress. Soon the cops are hauling him away for a “rendition” as a suspected terrorist. There is some bizarre circumstantial evidence against him (including a tic-tac transparency containing an anagram of “9-11”). There is a horrifying lesson here in how it is easy to “look guilty” and become a target of government.
The interrogation scenes here are more horrifying than those in New Line’s “Rendition.” I thought, Jake Gyllenhaal (“pie charts”) is too nice a guy to have been believable in this movie. Instead, there is an X-files “cigarette smoking man” and Mansoor is treated to the worst imaginable bodily humiliations.
In the mean time Dave and some British lawyers have managed to get Maryam back to Lahore for a court proceeding that will turn in to a trial that turns all of the precepts of radical Islam into a sea of contradictions (even relative to the scriptures in the Koran). At one point, there is a question as to whether Islam forbids music, and the answer has something to do with King David in the Old Testament. The film has, however, demonstrated how radical Islam has tried to set up a religious “utopia” that is self-sustaining with a psychological trick: make men take care of women and perform with women by promising them that they “own” them and own the families they produce. This sort of compulsory male ego support seems to make permanent marital sexuality (and mandatory procreation as a kind of vicarious immortality) work in their world, and, it seems, it only falls apart and leads to violence (in the extreme) when “foreign occupiers” interfere. Nevertheless, there seems to be no conceivable way to rationalize suicide with this kind of thinking, even in religious terms; that seems to take place as a defense to the shame that results when their scheme is interfered with. Shame is normally the most intolerable of emotions.
Like "The Yacoubian Building" (from Egypt) this film shows the artistic and dramatic work that Muslim culture is capable of producing, at least in film. Although slower paced than most western films, it gives considerable weight to the view that radical Islam does not represent the Muslim world as a whole.
I do hope a North American distributor will pick this up. Of course, a theatrical run will create controversy, much more than anything from Michael Moore.
It would need some digital re-mixing to fix some technical problems.
Maybe Lions Gate will get interested in this film.
This film should not be confused with Universal’s “In the Name of the Father” (1993) about a coerced IRA confession.