and film critic, Hasan Yousef, thoughtfully scratched his beard
when he talked about how his country's censorship works: "They won't
officially tell you what is allowed. Nor do they officially tell
you what's not allowed. You just don't know."
The Stars in Broad Daylight.
The Stars in Broad Daylight was made in 1988 and suffered that fate.
It was never officially banned or passed. As a result, it was never
commercially released and was only shown sporadically in film clubs
or to school audiences. Oussama only managed two more films in the
next 16 years, The Night (1992) and Sacrifices (2002).
At the 6th
Osian Cinefan Asian Film Festival (July 16-25), where it received
a rare screening, Hasan Yousef introduced the film and positions
it as one of the films of Syrian young cinema and "a film that shows
a generation in opposition to the older one. To this day, the film
remains as fresh as ever."
The film shows
a fairly taboo subject, that of Muslim girls objecting to the arranged
marriages that their families subject them to. Already in this debut
film, Oussama's sensual cinema is in evidence, a man suckles a cow's
udder, a man fondles a sleeping girl's breast while pretending to
be asleep himself and the omnipresent obsession with sleeping arrangements.
The film begins
with a girl running off on the night of her wedding in protest against
the arranged marriage to a deaf man. Her best friend, who is sister
to the deaf man, is angry at her friend's rebellious behaviour.
Soon she finds herself subject to the same treatment. At the end
of the film, she too must decide whether or not to rebel against
Oussama's films, the themes are layered. The disintegration of the
family unit could be a microcosm of society. Could the Syrian censors
have worried that the film encouraged individualism in society,
a personal rebellion that they fear?
introduced his film at Cinefan, he said: "The devils are gnawing
at me. My films are born from my dreams and my devils." Oussama
himself, is a clear individual. This is why his characters have
to suffer so much for their own individuality. In many ways, he
destroys any notion of a fundamentalist Islamic cinema. (As Edward
Said once pointed out, Christians can be fundamentalist too. - Ed.)
He shows that there is a multitude of individual voices from the
Islamic world, which we are not hearing often enough.
Swing My Swing, My Darling.
of the Islamic individual has been coming across more clearly in
cinema. Take U-Wei bin Haji Saari's Swing My Swing High, My Darling
(2003), which was also shown in Cinefan. Most foreign film critics
fail to see the film's theme of Islam and sexual desire. Many critics
write off the film as a poor remake of James M Cain's The Postman
Always Rings Twice.
But the essence
is in the struggle with religious dictates. The spiritual elder
comes to advise the protagonist to consider marriage as a way to
ward off all gossip of the couple's adultery. It's hypocritical
but it's the only way that society will accept their relationship.
The key sequence,
which most viewers completely miss, is when the protagonist is in
jail. He is shown talking to the religious elder and regretting
his crime of passion. When he mentions how desirable the woman is,
the elder concurs: "Yes, she is a very lovely woman." It's a very
subtle moment, a moment of desire for the religious elder.
by this time, most viewers have switched off from the film. Perhaps,
what is significant about Swing My Swing High is that it is an intensely
local film. This probably explains why it is appearing in the Asian
festivals more than in the West.
Khalifa's Staying Awake at Night.
the Egyptian film, Staying Awake at Night (2003), by Hanu Khalifa,
screams about the changing sexual mores. Here four couples are facing
relationship problems ranging from the ubiquitous adultery to a
woman who craves a more erotic sexual life than her conservative
husband can give her. While this subject has been broached in other
films, Egyptian film critic, Hisham Abdel Khalek, confirms that
it has never been concentrated as the main theme in a single film.
For this reason, Staying Awake at Night has been a huge box office
hit in the Middle-East. If anything, all these films are crying
out about a moral crisis, which is anchored in hypocrisy.
is Mohsen Makhmalbaf whose filmmaking family, consisting of wife,
Marziyeh, daughters Samira and Hana, and son, Maysam, was given
a special tribute at CineFan. Makhmalbaf's filmography suffers a
momentary blank. Both Time of Love and The Nights of Zayandeh-Rood,
made in 1990, are still banned in Iran. Time of Love, which tells
of an adulterous triangle from three different angles, was banned
for its moral "ambiguity" on adultery. Whereas Nights on Zayandeh-Rood,
which dealt with those who died in the 1979 revolution, was probably
deemed too unpatriotic.
The most poignant
poetic irony for Makhmalbaf was when the Iranian authorities banned
his new film script, Amnesia, earlier this year. The story is about
a blind film censor.
Can one say
anything more about the kind of censorship plaguing Asian cinema?