Directors often miss out on the real drama when telling real-life stories by sticking with the headlines to capitalize on what is already familiar. That shows a real laziness on the part of the filmmaker.
Director Hany Abu-Assad doesn’t take a lazy route in his “The Idol.” He spends more time with the story behind the headlines. Instead of just rehashing the musical accomplishments of Mohammad Assaf (Tawfeek Barhom) that stole the hearts of a nation, he offers a deeper look into the emotional and political events in the singer’s life that helped him along his musical path.
Assaf became a superstar in the Middle East in 2013 when as a Gaza refugee he won the Arab version of “American Idol,” “Arab Idol.” Don’t worry, that information does not spoil the film. It’s a far more interesting story seeing how the singer gets to the competition.
The story really starts when Assaf is a youngster. He and his sister, Nour (Hiba Atallah), have put together a band. They dream of using their musical abilities to get them out of the war-torn world. Tragedy keeps that from happening for the siblings, but Assaf gets his chance. Before the story shifts to the adult story, Hiba gets an opportunity to show a wonderfully moving and brash performance that should get her plenty of future work.
Abu-Assad’s film follows two definitive lines. There’s the rise to musical fame by Assaf, which shows that with a strong will, some talent and the generosity of a handful of people, a person can scale to great heights.
This is sold through the performance by Barhom. Although the way he carries himself reflects a lifetime of sadness and setbacks, his eyes never lose the fire needed to defy not only the insane odds of a music competition show, but to go against the standards of his country, family and religion.
At the same time, the director offers a compelling look into the Arab world, including the struggle for survival in a landscape scarred by decades of fighting. It’s fascinating that a film, which looks set in a time of a post-apocalyptic world, is actually a modern-day story.
The topper, as far as the movie being based on a real story, is the result of the “Arab Idol” competition. The strength comes from what has gone on in the life of this young man with a brilliant singing voice who may have never been heard because of his situation.
His isn’t a story of being a singing champion, but of being a young man driven by a passion to find a better life. In the process, he must learn how to stand strong while an entire nation rides on his shoulders. His way of dealing with that is the melody that drives this beautiful film tune.
“The Idol” is presented in Arabic with English subtitles. It is this month’s Fresno Filmworks featured film. It shows Friday night only at Tower Theatre.
Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Hiba Atallah, Nadine Labaki, Ashraf Barhom
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Screenings: 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9. This month’s presentation by Fresno Filmworks at the Tower Theatre.