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August 12, 2022

The humour of the Middle East

The recently ended film festival ‘Comedy Cluj’ also rewarded 2 movies from a region that is full of tensions and confrontations: an Israeli one and a Saudi one. The first movie speaks exactly about war, more precisely about the threat of the nuclear war. ‘Atomic Falafel’ (photo), directed by Dror Shul, is the Middle-Eastern version of the movie produced in 1964 by Stanley Kurbick, ‘Dr. Strangelove’. If the latter was satirizing the paranoia of the Cold War, the Israeli movie targets the nuclear competition with Iran. Anticipating an Iranian assault, the Israeli people want to attack first, but eventually everything fails due to some teenagers who have other plans than being the victims of the murderous madness of the adults.

Behind the coarse humor, there is a very serious theme: violence can be undermined only from its roots, from the long cultivated hatred. Teenagers don’t understand the reasons of the adults, and this is good: their ‘naivety’ is the only chance for them to get out from the vortex of the exacerbated confrontations. A new transnational and trans-religious popular culture, which partially unites young people worldwide, indicates a peaceful ideal, in opposition to the uptight and hypocrite ‘responsibility’ of the politicians. However, the availability of at least one part of the Israeli society to look self-critically to the slippages of security and war is a sign of democratic vitality. Even the identity obsession of the Jewish people – a nice German man is circumcised ‘by force’ – is seen ironically, same as the excessive rhetoric of the victimization (with reference to the Holocaust), or as the arrogant borders of the hyper-technology. Music, sex and computer can cause not just the fear of the worried parents for the ‘careless’ concerns of their children, but they can also be the chances of a humanization which many adults have missed. However, putting in the mirror of two states/societies/cultures which at least are partially risking to sacrifice the future generations for a dangerous myth of war is remarkable.

Being overwhelmed by a recent recrudescence of the bloody conflicts, especially in the Middle East, the contemporaries are less concerned of the nuclear danger than in the 50s, for instance. But it’s actually only a button which a more aggressive and reckless leader could activate in a moment of crisis. Vladimir Putin’s example, who is already using the nuclear threat as in the Soviet times, is more than worrying. Movies like ‘Atomic Falafel’ remind us, with a salutary humor, how serious the situation can be hen there are not anymore enough pressures to remove the irresponsible fingers from the nuclear buttons.

`Barakah meets Barakah` is a rarity, at least for Europeans. Although a Saudi movie is not quite a premiere in Cluj, where the other film festival (TIFF) presented, three years ago, ‘Wadjda’, directed by Haifaa al-Mansur. If the latter was speaking about the woman’s condition – for a Saudi little girl, even having a bicycle is more than a problem -, this time the critical perspective is wider. Mahmoud Sabbagh’s movie suggests space of a relative autonomy even in such an extremely conservative and repressive society, but the general perspective is a sad one – the young hero of the movie itself makes a comparison with the previous generations, considered to be advantaged by a much more open general climate.

Along with the movie’s heroine – a famous beautiful girl in the virtual world, who seems to be rather immune to many restrictions, however far from the model of the woman whose eyes are the only ones that can be seen in public -, the young boy discovers how difficult is to woo a girls in a world which, due to an extreme prudishness religiously legitimated, is not providing minimal spaces anymore for the normality of a relationship. The comic tonality places the dramatism into a significant silencer, but the conclusion is one of an original criticism, surprising those who see the Saudi society modeled on the communist totalitarianism. Saudi people, at least those ones of the young generations, also wish a more open society – a more human society, in other words.

Such movies should make us slightly more optimistic even regarding the future of a so tensed region as the Middle East. Not only because the people in the region are able to joke on their problems, too, and moreover, to satirize their type of society, but also because the resources of humanism are not the monopoly of any nation, culture or religion.

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