By Daria Butler, Staff Writer
Palestinian film director Hany Abu Assad celebrates his homeland and people in the new film “The Idol.” The part-drama, part-biography which is to be released in theatres on Friday, May 6th, tells the true story of Muhammad Assaf, who famously won the singing competition “Arab Idol” at age 23 and went on to become a national symbol of hope for Palestinians everywhere.
The first part of the film serves as a frankly adorable exposition of Muhammad’s background and childhood, detailing his relationship with his beloved sister and their friends. Taking the tone of a coming-of-age dramedy, the children discover Muhammad’s knack for singing and together they form a band, playing at weddings and other parties to the surprise and even chagrin of the adults.
Suddenly, the film takes a tragic turn that propels the rest of the plot forward. We jump ahead several years to find a teenage Muhammad trying to pay for school by working as a cab driver when he learns of auditions being held in Cairo for the upcoming season of “Arab Idol.”
We then watch Muhammad take courage from the tragic loss in his past and embark on an ambitious journey to Cairo, practically melting people with his irresistible singing talent along the way. It is no surprise when he wins the competition. Still, it is highly gratifying to watch a boy who has been a shy underdog for most of the movie find his strength and evolve into a man who proudly stands up for his country.
According to the real life Muhammad Assaf, “The Idol” is twenty-percent fictionalized and eighty-percent truth, yet no less of an uplifting feel-good movie as well as an enriching cultural experience. Director Assad has managed to put together a vibrant, at times lighthearted, yet highly poignant portrait of Gaza and its people.
In a talkback following an advanced screening of the film at the Angelika Film Center, Assad called “The Idol” “an homage to Gaza, because I think their spirit is so high and this is why Israel is punishing them very hard… Their spirit is unbreakable. They break the spirit of everything but they can’t break the spirit of Gaza.”
Further, Assad praised Muhammad as an exception to the disheartening trend of competition shows “misusing hungry talent.” Rather, Assad shared that he “learned about hope” from Muhammad’s story. “You can get hope from his voice and start to believe in yourself.”
When asked about why he chose to omit the violence in Gaza, Assad asserted, “I show the results and I think it’s more powerful to see the results.” He concluded the discussion by offering that “what you do in fiction, mostly, you show what you don’t know… because if you know it why should I show it?”
“The Idol” will premiere in theaters on May 6th.