With The idol, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Oscar nominated Paradise now and Omar) finds a lighter subject than his usual film projects. A fictionalized biopic of Gazan Arab idol winner Muhammad Assaf, The idol has plenty of youthful energy. It start with 10-year-old Muhammad (Qais Atallah) and his band playing at weddings to make a little money. The members of the band are: Muhammad who sings, his 12-year-old sister, Nour (Hiba Atallah) plays the guitar and two other boys. Atallah gives the assured performance of the first half of the film. Nour is a tomboy who is not afraid to push whom ever is in her way, boy or men, and ploughs through, even though girls, she’s told, are not supposed to play guitar at weddings or ride a bike. Nour does ride a bike with her brother and her friends, and they don’t seem to mind. As for playing at weddings, well, that’s another story. She has to play hiding behind a poster. The moment is so perfectly rendered by Atallah, that she manages to make it both sad and comical in the absurdity of the situation. It’s not long though before tragedy hits Muhammad and his family. In the second half, Muhammad is older and played by Tawfeek Barhom (the star of the film). It’s 2012 and Muhammad is driving taxis to help in the family finances. He still wants to make it as a singer, but his effort seems hopeless. Muhammad is auditioning for Palestinian idol, but because of travel restrictions, he has to perform over Skype. That is they could if they had electricity. They get a generator, but other problems keep popping up and piling up. This is a scene of great comic efficiency. But around Muhammad and his family and friends there’s ruins everywhere. And probably the possible threat of another attack at any time. Muhammad has to go to Cairo where the auditions for Arab idol are being held. Everyone he knows believes in him and encourages him to go. But getting there is easier said than done and quite an adventure. Hany Abu-Assad and co-screenwriter Sameh Zoabi have made a popular film, mixing comedy and drama, showing the difficulty of life in Gaza and the sociopolitical and cultural impact of Muhammad Assaf. Now at 27, Assaf has been named a Goodwill Ambassador by the UN. We are told that he can now travel freely across the world. Except in Gaza.
The idol (Ya tayr el tayer)
Abdel Kareem Barakeh
Rated Parental Guidance.
In Arabic with English subtitles.