Magazine article Screen International

'The Preacher': Dubai Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Preacher': Dubai Review

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Magdy Ahmed Ali. Egypt, 201, 129 mins.

Controversial Egyptian writer and journalist Ibrahim Essa's 2013 best-selling novel The Televangelist - published in English this year - scales up well to the big screen for Magdy Ahmed Ali's satisfyingly dense The Preacher (Mawlana), a close-up look at the politics of religion in that country's Islamic world. It's no surprise that Essa views The Televangelist as being cut from the same cloth as The Da Vinci Code and The Name Of The Rose; there's a rigorous tangling with the tenets and interpretation of Islam in Egypt at play inside this twisty thriller.

With sequences shot inside Cairo's important religious institutions - both Mosque and Coptic church - and its explicit approach to the interpretation of Islam and thematic plea for religious tolerance, The Preacher is a talky, intellectual foreign-language thriller which is looking at a strong run in all Middle East markets and good arthouse prospects elsewhere. The subtitled print which world premiered in Dubai will need further refinement and contextualisation before its next outing, but The Preacher's frank confrontation of Egypt's problems runs to the terrorist bombing of a Coptic church and an attack on Sufimuslims and will undoubtedly engage debate.

Amr Sa'ad (The Other, El Medina) is terrific in the lead, playing Sheikh Hatem, a pious, funny man who - in a pre-credit sequence - is given the opportunity to lead prayers at the Government mosque. His stern warning ("authority is a responsibility you will be held accountable for on judgement day") leads to him being offered a job as a TV evangelist, where his blend of easy humour and in-depth knowledge of the Qu'uran leads to wild success, and he is soon followed by millions all over Egypt. His lifestyle rapidly scales up: he marries the beautiful Oamina (Dorra) and they have a son after seven years of trying, but his over-protectiveness puts the boy's life at risk.

As the film opens properly, Essa's screenplay makes it clear that Sheikh Hatem's public position has forced him into some personal compromises. He's more tolerant in private than he appears in public - particularly of Christians and the Sufiminority - and he uses his humour and knowledge of the hadiths to snake his way around difficult questions (would the Prophet drive a jeep if he were alive today? …

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