Director Hany-Abu Assad/2016
DVD Release Date: October 25, 2016/Kino Lorber
The Idol is one of the most unlikely tales of pop stardom against the backdrop of one of the most politically explosive areas in the world: Gaza. Director Hany-Abu Assad delivers an upbeat and heartfelt tale of one boy’s desire to achieve pop stardom through singing, while living in a place where it is the most unlikely of dreams.
Mohammad Assaf (Tawfeek Barhoom (as an adult, Kais Attalah (as a child), his sister Nour (Hiba Attalah), along with a group of friends, have it in their heads that they are going to flee their Gaza home for neighboring Egypt where they will sing and get famous. They love to sing, but have no instruments and desire to start a band. As resourceful kids, they track down the local smuggler and offer him very little money that they have raised in exchange for a drum set, a guitar, etc. He promptly keeps their money and thinks nothing more of it, but these kids’ desire for pop fame is so strong that they find a way around that.
The Idol, may be the closest parallel to Rocky for those in Gaza who tuned into their television sets each night, often in city-wide gatherings, to cheer on their unlikely hero who gave them a voice outside the typical political battles being waged in the area.
The kids, though they are young, seek out a local music teacher, and begin to learn their craft. Soon they are playing for weddings, and other celebrations around town. When Nour gets sick, she never seems to lose that fiery spirit that helped her to push Mohammad forward, as she continues to encourage her brother to keep playing so that one day together they will find themselves in Egypt, singing. As long as the dream is in front of them, there will always be a reason to persevere, even in the darkest of times.
After a tragic loss, we find the children all grown up, resigned to a life in Gaza amidst all of the tensions that go with that. Mohammad is now a taxi driver, yet he has never given up his dream. Soon, he learns that one of the last auditions for Arab Idol, an official middle-east spin-off show from American Idol, will be held in Cairo, Egypt. Soon, he is seeking a way to fulfill he and his sister’s dream of becoming a pop star. The only difference, is that now, he will be pursuing this dream on his own, and in the face of the reality that someone like him is unable to secure the proper documentation to be approved to leave the Gaza region.
The true story of Mohammad Assaf is an inspiring one, that was shot with as much authenticity as was allowed to director Hany-Abu Assad. Having been born in Israel, Assad was unable to film directly in Gaza, however he was able to still shoot in the region and use local talent to serve as the main children actors and extras, etc., which gave the film a much more realistic feel. While the region is known for strife, what is championed here is the heart and spirit of the people who show us that the human experience is one that unifies us all. While there is heartache, there is also a lot to celebrate.
The Idol, may be the closest parallel to Rocky for those in Gaza who tuned into their television sets each night, often in city-wide gatherings, to cheer on their unlikely hero who gave them a voice outside the typical political battles being waged in the area. It is also one of the most uplifting films that Hany-Abu Assad has directed. Ultimately, this film could also be considered a love-story, though a somewhat unconventional one.
Kino Lorber has released this film today on DVD. It contains a very good accompanying piece where Hany-Abu Assad gives an in-depth look at this film, why he was passionate about telling its story, and the trials they endured in order to accomplish the most realistic depiction of this real-life tale. Also interviewed are many of his cast and crew as they demonstrate the very tough conditions required for them to do this shoot, and most special is to see the children who were given permission to leave the Gaza area each day to go and shoot a movie, despite never having been to a theater. When the children’s principle photography was complete, you see the emotional goodbyes given to them from the cast who understand that this will probably be the last time they meet.
The film also contains actual footage of the real Mohammad Assaf from his Arabic Idol run, including hearing the voice that has inspired not just an entire region, but now a feature length film. The Idol is filmed in Arabic, with English subtitles.
The images used in the review are present only as a reference to the film and are not meant to reflect the actual image quality of the DVD.