Top-budget epic film wins praise worldwide

Trans Asia News

TEHRAN: Iran’s most expensive movie,  Muhammad, which chronicles the childhood of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), opened nationwide in Iran on Thursday, winning praise from early audiences.

Directed by Majid Majidi, the 171-minute, visually stunning film cost around $40 million took more than seven years to complete.

Majidi says the aim of his work, the first part of a trilogy, is to reclaim the rightful image of Islam, which he said extremists have distorted: 

“Unfortunately at this time the impression of Islam is of a radical, fanatical and violent religion, which is not what it’s about,” he said in Montreal, where the film had its international premiere, hours after screening back home.

“The barbaric acts of terrorism conducted by terrorist groups under the guise of Islam are not related to Islam,” he said, alluding to beheadings and destruction of cultural treasures by Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

“Islam is a religion of peace, friendship and love, and I tried to show this in the film,” he added.

However all are not impressed by Majidi’s explanation.

Egypt s Al-Azhar has called on Iran to ban the film saying films on prophets are not allowed in Islam.

“Most of these reactions are political,” said Sami Yusuf, who is one of the Islamic world s biggest musical stars and who sang the soundtrack for the film.

“I am sure people in Al-Azhar and others who criticize the film haven’t seen it yet. They are against the film only because it’s a cultural export of Iran.”

He said it was a “shame” there were only two major productions describing the life of Mohammad (PBUH), in contrast to the many on Jesus Christ and other prophets.

“You cannot study Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) life and not fall in love with him and his character. If this film makes people of the world know our prophet better and see how kind he was, we have done our job,” singer Yusuf said.

Ambitious goals

Muhammad, which captures Arabia of more than 1,400 years ago, offers much more than stereotypical trains of Arabs on camels riding across yellow sand dunes.

It takes cinemagoers from the birth of the Prophet (PBUH) up to his teenage years, and is packed with scenes relating to miracles. The crew of Muhammad is also very hopeful that the film will do well with the audience.

The film also features work by three-time Oscar-winning Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, while its score has been devised by India’s Allah Rakha Rahman, a double Academy Award winner for the Danny Boyle-directed blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire.

In one scene, an army of tribesmen mounted on elephants charges the holy city of Makkah to heart-pounding music, only to be destroyed by a flock of birds hurling stones.

In another, intensely emotional scene, a young Muhammad (PBUH) heals his nanny with a touch of his hand.

“It was very moving for us,” said Mahsa Rasoulzadeh, 40, accompanied by her mother and teenage daughter at Kourosh Cinema in west Tehran.

The theatre was around two-thirds full at an 11:00 am showing on Thursday, the first day of the Iranian weekend, but afternoon sessions were sold out in advance and two more had to be added for after midnight to meet demand.

Abolfazl Fatehi, 21, who came to watch the film in a family group of seven, said he loved it.

“I think this film can be a starting point of research for those who don’t know Islam,” he said.

In Montreal the world premiere of Majidi’s biopic, which had the potential to be one of the most inflammatory projects of recent times, not only passed mostly without incident, but even amicably – with a surprise call for rapprochement between religions.

The mood inside the press conference for the film – the first on the subject since Moustapha Akkad’s 1977 film The Message was conciliatory. 

Majidi issued a direct invitation to a rival Qatari team currently developing their own Muhammad franchise to collaborate on future, Islam-themed projects.

“The more movies that are made about the prophet’s life, the better,” Majidi said. “We hope the Qatari team will make a correct interpretation of Islam, and they are most welcome to come and film at our facilities in our country.”

Majidi says that he had support from both Sunni and Shia scholars for his interpretation, which focuses on the prophet’s childhood in the Hejaz region. The film is based on four years of research drawing on sources from the hadith verbatim, and the seerah, contemporary biographical sources.

The film is the second major production on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The first, “Muhammad, Messenger of God”, was made in 1976 by Syrian-American filmmaker Moustapha Akkad. It was a huge success with Iranians. Forty years on, with its cost around 20 times higher than any other Iran-produced film, Majidi’s effort has raised high expectations.

The director said he believed a more proactive approach was required from Islamic film-makers in the light of acts of terrorism that were shaping global perceptions of the faith. “We’ve been guilty of shortcomings in introducing the world to the real and true face of the prophet. There have been 200 movies about Jesus Christ, 100 featuring Moses directly or indirectly, 42 about Buddha, but only two on Muhammad (pbuh)”. 

No announcement has yet been made on when the two other parts of the Muhammad trilogy, covering the rest of his life, will be produced.

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