Rayess Bek and La Mirza — ‘Love and Revenge’

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Randa Mirza (L) and Rayess Bek (R) during their recent performance at the Louvre Abu Dhabi
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Randa Mirza and Rayess Bek during their recent performance at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. A scene from "Love & Revenge" projected on the screen behind them.
Updated 05 May 2018
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Rayess Bek and La Mirza — ‘Love and Revenge’

  • The viewer is taken back to an era of cinema that probably won't be recreated
  • “Love & Revenge” was recently at the Louvre Abu Dhabi for two consecutive nights

DUBAI: There’s a scene early on in “Love & Revenge” that epitomizes the poignancy in Rayess Bek’s and Randa Mirza’s audio-visual ode to a cultural golden age - clips of classic Egyptian cinema set to contemporary electro-pop reworkings of vintage Arab songs. 

In a sequence of scenes taken from Hussein Kamal’s 1969 film “Abi Foq Al-Shagara,” the Egyptian star Abdel Halim Hafez poses self-consciously in front of a camera in Baalbek, Lebanon. With him is the actress Nadia Lutfi. As their love affair unfolds on screen, they laugh and embrace and kiss. All is set to Bek’s masterful reworking of Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s “Ya Msafer Wahdak,” sung by Nagat Al-Saghira.

It’s a sad piece of film to watch. Not because of its beauty, innocence or freedom, or because of the snapshot of an unspoiled Lebanon that it provides, but because you know, deep down, that nothing like the original film or music can ever be created again.

At the heart of “Love & Revenge” is the realization that the Arab world seen through the prism of the golden age of Egyptian cinema bears little or no resemblance to today’s world: A world in which expressions of love, romance and sexuality have been effectively erased. As such, “Love & Revenge” can be viewed as an attempt to reclaim a more liberal past; one where Hafez is free to embrace Lutfi on screen at will.

Created by Bek, a former Arabic hip-hop trailblazer turned audio-visual collaborator, and Mirza, a video artist, “Love & Revenge” was at the Louvre Abu Dhabi for two consecutive nights last week, and brought with it a keen sense of nostalgia.

Even the title is important, taken as it is from Youssef Wahbi’s 1944 film “Gharam Wa Intiqam” (Love and Revenge), the last movie to feature the singer and actress Asmahan, a Druze princess who died in mysterious circumstances before the film was finished. It is Bek’s mid-tempo, beat-heavy reinterpretation of Asmahan’s “Emta Hataraf” that is arguably the project’s standout track.

Yet, for all the perceived freedom depicted in “Love & Revenge,” with the possible exception of Asmahan the movie scenes chosen by Mirza represent a man’s vision of women. Even now, that cinematic vision is only slowly changing.


The Six: Celebrate the Man Booker announcement with these regional reads

Books from the Middle East to read. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 October 2018
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The Six: Celebrate the Man Booker announcement with these regional reads

DUBAI: With the 2018 Man Booker prize being announced on Tuesday, we take a look at six books from the Middle East that deserve to be read before the year is over.

‘Where the Bird Disappeared’
Taking inspiration from the stories of Prophet Zakariyya and his son Yahya, Palestinian poet and writer Ghassan Zaqtan’s book is a beautiful novel set in the village of Zakariyya, in modern-day Palestine.

‘Ascension to Death’
Syrian novelist Mamdouh Azzam tells the story of a young girl’s fate in a southern Syrian village.

‘Tippu Tip’
Stuart Laing writes a biography that transports the reader into an extraordinary world with an exotic cast of characters.

‘Elsewhere, Home’
Written by Leila Aboulela, the book is an enchanting collection of short stories that stretch from Khartoum to Scotland.

‘The Merchant of Syria’
Diana Darke interweaves the story of a cloth merchant with the development of Syria in an insightful look at the life of a businessman who expands his trade.

‘The Baghdad Clock’
Shahad Al-Rawi’s extraordinary novel turns life in embattled Iraq into a fantastical world of characters and memories by following two young girls who meet during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.