"The West is both obsessed with Islam and at the same time, it does not understand this religion at all," director Tarik Saleh, whose film Boy from Heaven is in the running, told AFP on Saturday. Golden Palm. If the feature film has no educational aim, it documents with precision different doctrines of Sunni Islam. And offers viewers a glimpse, from the inside, of a little known or even depreciated world.
“I really think that the West understands nothing about Islam,” insists the man who explains that he has a “personal” relationship to this religion. Almost five years after the release of Confidential Cairo, the 50-year-old Swedish filmmaker, born to an Egyptian father, is back with a politico-religious thriller that denounces the authoritarian excesses of Marshal al-Sissi's power and offers a deep dive in the world of Sunni Islam. A dive that is reminiscent of The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco's novel and then successful film, taking place in an abbey in the Middle Ages. Mere coincidence? "I was rereading this book when I asked myself: 'What if I told a story like this but in a Muslim context?'" Tarik Saleh recalls to AFP.
Just like Confidential Cairo, which had been filmed in Morocco, Boy from Heaven could not be filmed in Egypt, but in Turkey. “I haven't been back to Egypt since 2015, when we were filming Confidential Cairo when Egyptian security services ordered us to leave the country. Since then, I have been an undesirable person who, if he sets foot on Egyptian soil, will undoubtedly be arrested, ”he assures. The one who discovered his father's country at the age of 10 explains that he holds a special place in his life: "I love the Egyptians, their language... When I hear it, it's like music to me. Even if my level of Arabic is catastrophic!” he quips. Moreover, anchoring one's films in this country is a way of “reclaiming” it.
Fiction and not documentary, the film also has a strong autobiographical scope: "Like the main character, my grandfather is from a small fishing village and studied at al-Azhar University", indicates Tarik Saleh in reference to the main religious institution in the Sunni world, located in the historic center of Cairo. "In a way, he continues, this film is a love letter to Egypt and a tribute to my grandparents."
However, Tarik Saleh has not always been a director. He started his career as a street artist, before turning to documentaries. In 2005, the documentary he produced on the Guantanamo military prison won awards in the United States and Europe. "I hate being a director," he said seriously when AFP asked him about his vocation as a filmmaker. I come from the world of art and painting and I like to be alone. I hate being with 200 people on a film set. Even if I like the cinema, it is always very painful for me”.
And to confide that he sees himself more as "a writer". Like a Harlan Coben or a John Grisham, two masters of thrillers, the filmmaker feeds each of his storylines with never-ending plots. “Each time I am told to simplify because otherwise no one will be able to follow”. “In addition to being my best friend, for me, he is an incredible director and screenwriter,” his favorite actor, Fares Fares, told AFP.
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