Deeper Than the Skin

By Levitin, Michael | Newsweek International, February 18, 2008 | Go to article overview

Deeper Than the Skin


Levitin, Michael, Newsweek International


Byline: Michael Levitin

This year's Berlinale features a number of films that deal with aspects of Islam long considered taboo.

Islam and homosexuality are rarely addressed in the same film. So when Indian director Parvez Sharma made "A Jihad for Love," a documentary about gay and lesbian Muslims, he wasn't terribly surprised to find himself embroiled in controversy. The film, which includes interviews with Muslim homosexuals from 12 countries, features an appearance by a gay imam from South Africa, where the Muslim Judicial Council issued a religious decree forbidding Muslims to see it. But when it screens this week at the Berlin International Film Festival, "A Jihad for Love" will no doubt receive a much warmer reception. It promises, says Sharma, "to engage European audiences with Islam in ways they did not even think were possible."

It's a goal clearly in vogue at this year's Berlinale, where fully a dozen films tackle complex and previously unexplored aspects of Muslim life. In "The Song of Sparrows," the Oscar-nominated Iranian director Majid Majidi tells the story of a modern-day Iranian family that moves from the suburbs of Tehran to the city, where the father falls upon hard times. Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss's documentary "Full Battle Rattle" focuses on the Iraqi-Americans who "play" Iraqis in the U.S. Army's Iraq simulation program in the Mojave Desert, contrasting the characters they play with their real-life stories of living in exile in America. These films come at a time when mistrust of Muslims remains high in Europe, and harsh stereotypes persist in the face of concerns over immigration, terrorist bombings and the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The films certainly don't shy away from the taboo. "The Aquarium," by Yousry Nasrallah, hints at the dangerous strain of Islam lurking around the edges of middle-class, educated Egyptian society. And "3 Women," by Iranian director Manijeh Hekmat ("Women's Prison"), tells the story of three generations of strong-willed Iranian women, each in search of meaning and liberation. Dondu Kilic's documentary "The Other Side of Istanbul" explores discrimination in Turkey's capital from the perspective of a gay man whose family has accepted his homosexuality, challenging traditional Islamic views. …

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