“The West is obsessed with Islam and at the same time does not understand this religion at all,” said Swedish director of Egyptian origin, Tariq Saleh, whose film “A Boy from Heaven” seeks to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, in an interview with AFP on Saturday.
Nearly five years after his movie “The Nile Hilton Incident”, the 50-year-old director, born in Stockholm to a Swedish mother and an Egyptian father, returned with a political-religious teaser criticizing the performance of the Egyptian authorities under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and delving into the world of the most prominent institutions concerned with Sunni Islam.
The film is reminiscent of the novel “The Name of the Rose” by Italian writer Umberto Eco, which takes place in a monastery during the Middle Ages, from which a movie was adapted. “I was re-reading this book when I asked myself: ‘What if I told a story like this, but in an Islamic context?'” Salih told AFP.
“I think that the West does not understand anything at all about Islam,” added Saleh, who in his film provides an inside glimpse of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which is the most important institution specialized in Sunni Islamic sciences.
Similar to the “Nile Hilton Incident” that was filmed in Morocco, “Boy from Heaven” was not filmed in Egypt, but rather in Turkey.
“I have not returned to Egypt since filming (the Nile Hilton incident) in 2015, when the Egyptian security services ordered us to leave Egypt. Since then, I have become persona non grata who will inevitably be arrested if he sets foot on Egyptian territory,” Saleh said.
There is a great deal of autobiography in this feature film and non-documentary. Saleh explained that his grandfather, “as the main character” in the film, “is from a small fisherman’s village and studied at Al-Azhar University.”
He stressed that his film “is a love letter to Egypt” and “a tribute” to his grandparents.
Saleh, who was introduced to his father’s country when he was ten, stressed that Egypt has a special place in his life.
“I love the Egyptians and their language… It’s like music to me when I hear it, even though my level of Arabic is disastrous!” he said. Tariq Saleh was not always a director, as he started his career as a street artist, then turned to documentaries.
In 2005, his documentary about the Guantanamo military prison won awards in the United States and Europe. Asked by Agence France-Presse about his career as a director, he said seriously, “I hate being a director.”
He added, “I come from the world of art and drawing and I like to be alone. I hate being with 200 people on a set. It annoys me a lot even though I love cinema.” He explained that he is more comfortable being a “writer”. Like Harlan Cobain and John Grisham, two of the most prominent writers of detective fiction, Saleh feeds every script he writes with intricate plots.
“Every time I am asked to simplify, otherwise no one will understand,” he said. “Tarek, in my opinion, is a wonderful director and screenwriter, in addition to being my best friend,” Swedish-based Lebanese actor Fares Fares, who plays the police officer in “A Boy from Heaven,” told AFP.