Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh: ‘I don’t intend to provoke anyone’

Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh: ‘I don’t intend to provoke anyone’
Tarik Saleh is the director of “Boy from Heaven.” (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 08 July 2022

Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh: ‘I don’t intend to provoke anyone’

Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh: ‘I don’t intend to provoke anyone’
  • Fresh from his Cannes win for ‘Boy From Heaven,’ the filmmaker on self-censorship, his Egyptian roots, and ‘telling a good story’

DUBAI: As Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh sat in the audience the 2022 Cannes premiere of his latest film, “Boy from Heaven,” he found himself unable to focus on his own accomplishment. Even as his hero, the legendary Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras, turned from the seat in front of him to offer a nod of approval, even as more than 2,000 enraptured guests sat on the edges of their seats behind him, all Saleh could think was, “I wish someone else had made this.”

“If someone else would just make these films, I wouldn’t make them. I would just watch them,” Saleh told Arab News, speaking on the sidelines of the festival. “The problem is no one will make them unless I do. I guess some things I just have to do myself.”

One can see why others may have shied away from making a film like “Boy from Heaven,” which was awarded both Best Screenplay and the coveted François Chalais Prize at Cannes. After all, a thriller about the inner workings of the highly-influential Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo following the death of the Grand Imam and a corrupt political effort to replace him was always bound to draw controversy.




Saleh was born in Stockholm in 1972 to an Egyptian father and Swedish mother. (Supplied)

“The funny thing is, I don’t intend to provoke anyone — not that there’s anything wrong with a little provocation. I just want to tell a good story, and make a good film,” Saleh said.

The idea came to Saleh as he reread one of his favorite books, Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose,” a murder-mystery set in an Italian monastery in the 14th century. It occurred to him what a similar scandal set in al-Azhar might look like, before he quickly dismissed the thought as impossible in the current political climate.

“I started thinking, ‘Are you allowed to tell that story? How will people react?’ I immediately started self-censoring — which made me realize that’s exactly why I have to tell it. I realized that if I told this story without holding back, I would walk out into territory that no one has ever been. That in itself is controversial,” says Saleh.

Saleh was born in Stockholm in 1972 to an Egyptian father and Swedish mother, and long before he ever even visited the country, he reflexively answered that he is Egyptian first. That’s because, growing up, none of his fellow Swedes would accept him as one of their own.




“Boy from Heaven” is an unflinching work that takes a critical view off the ways in which politics can affect things that are supposed to be immune to its workings. (Supplied)

“Every day here in Sweden, I was asked, ‘Where are you from?’ If I answered ‘Sweden,’ they would not accept that. After a while, I just gave up. I said, ‘I'm from Egypt,’” says Saleh.

As much as he resented being otherized, Egypt still held a dear place in his heart. And still does.

“My father, instead of telling me fairy tales and bedtime stories, would tell me stories from his childhood in Egypt. From there, it became almost like an obsession for me,” says Saleh.

Throughout his life, Saleh has also had to endure cultural hate towards Muslims and the Arab world, in which bigotry was often misrepresented as fact. He even found a book in his library in school called “Arab,” a pseudo-scientific study that described “the Arab” as stupid and uncivilized.

“I grew up constantly having to defend us, to defend Arab humanity,” Saleh said. “When I started writing my own scripts, starting with ‘The Nile Hilton Incident’ (2017), I gave myself permission to have the audacity to ignore the fact that the Western world has been brainwashed to think that people from the Arab world aren’t human. So I set out to tell a human story, with the good and the bad, and not try to convince anyone of anything.”




(From L) Actor Tawfeek Barhom, director Tarik Saleh and Lebanese-Swedish actor Fares Fares at a photocall for ‘Boy from Heaven’ at the Cannes Film Festival in May. (AFP)

Saleh was inspired by the films of Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Iñárritu of Mexico, and Bong Joon Ho and Park Chan Wook of South Korea, who each made films of overflowing humanity that transcended above cultural borders. He decided he, too, could make a film like Joon Ho’s remarkable “Memories of a Murder” (2003), a film that was critical of its society, offered no context or explanations, but was never considered an indictment of an entire people.

“To all the critics of ‘Boy from Heaven’ who will say I don’t provide enough context, I say no, sorry, I don't owe you an explanation,” Saleh said. “I'm not here to teach you about Islam. Bong Joon Ho doesn’t explain Korean society. He's not a teacher. He's a filmmaker. A lot of Western people think they have a right to know. I say, no, you have a right to learn. You’re going to have to take this journey yourself.”

That is part of the reason that Saleh chose to have the main character of “Boy from Heaven” himself be alienating to Western audiences, subverting the Hollywood expectation that the outsider character would stand in for a skeptical Western viewer’s perspective.

“I knew it would be unsettling to take this journey with a person who is a believer, who is trying to do the right thing. And I’m very glad that I made it unsettling,” the filmmaker said.




Tarik Saleh won Best Screenplay at Cannes for ‘Boy from Heaven.’ (AFP)

While “Boy from Heaven” is — first and foremost — an unflinching work that takes a critical view off the ways in which politics can affect things that are supposed to be immune to its workings, Saleh wanted, primarily, to be respectful to the faith and accurate in his depictions of the university — which his own grandfather attended — and the mosque and perhaps forge a deeper connection with them himself.

“I worked with an imam who was very knowledgeable about Al-Azhar. I wanted to make sure that the depiction was correct and — for selfish reasons — I wanted to have conversations with him about life, about moral issues, my own doubts and problems. It was very fruitful,” said Saleh. “We had many interesting conversations about the dilemmas in the film. I realized I’m sort of telling myself the story, in many ways.”

For Saleh, the film’s story is about himself as much as anyone else. Good storytelling, after all, brings the viewer into the minds of its characters, preferably in a way that makes them understand a deeper truth, both about themselves and the world around them.

“That’s the transcendent thing about film — when you’re watching it, you’re making the decisions the character is making,” Saleh said. “What’s even more spectacular is the more corrupt decisions they’re taking, the more we, as human beings, can relate.

“Our leaders try to tell us that the enemy is on the other side of the ocean, or the other side of a border. But the truth is our enemy is in the mirror,” he continued. “Human beings, if we’re honest with ourselves, know that we are up against ourselves. That’s the basics of drama, and the basics of life.”


Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer releases trailer for Netflix’s ‘Mo’ 

Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer releases trailer for Netflix’s ‘Mo’ 
Updated 19 sec ago

Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer releases trailer for Netflix’s ‘Mo’ 

Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer releases trailer for Netflix’s ‘Mo’ 

DUBAI: Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer released on Tuesday the trailer to his upcoming Netflix show “Mo.” 

The eight-episode series, which will be released on Aug. 24, centers on a Palestinian immigrant family living in Houston, Texas. It follows Mo Najjar, played by Amer, who straddles the line between two cultures, three languages and a pending asylum request, all while hustling to support his family, which includes his mother, sister and older brother. 

Jordanian-Kuwaiti-Palestinian actress Farah Bsieso stars as Mo’s mother Yusra Najjar, while Egyptian-American actor Omar Elba portrays Sameer Najjar, Mo’s older brother, who has social anxiety. 

Rapper Tobe Nwigwe plays Nick, Mo’s oldest, most loyal friend and Mexican-American actress Teresa Ruiz stars as Mo’s girlfriend Maria. 

Amer also serves as executive producer in the series, along with his “Ramy” co-star and friend Egyptian-American Golden Globe-winner Ramy Youssef, who also appears in the show. 

In December, Amer told Arab News that he is at a point in his career where he is able to share his stories with a wider audience than ever before through an artistic medium that allows viewers to experience both his perspective and that of the Palestinian people in an intimate way.

“That’s why I think the art of stand-up is so liberating. It’s never been about the money,” he said. “Making money is great, and I want to make what I can, but it’s about telling great stories. I’m less concerned about money, and more concerned about punching above my weight. Creating a masterpiece is a worthy trek. That’s how I feel. That’s where I’m at right now with my stand-up, and my TV show.”

Amer began his career in comedy in his early teens and soon discovered that no one was telling stories about his experience or that of Arabs in general.

“I first got on stage at 14 years old, and I started touring when I was 17. Immediately, I started noticing that there was this huge gap,” he said. “There was no real representation at all on any of those stages of Arabs or Muslims. I said to myself, ‘OK, why don’t I introduce it?’”

With “Mo,” “Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” “Mo Amer: The Vagabond” and “Ramy,” the comedian has and still is sharing the stories of both his family and his people. 


Qatar to transform into outdoor art museum ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022

Qatar to transform into outdoor art museum ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022
Richard Serra's 'East-West, West-East.' (Supplied)
Updated 52 min 14 sec ago

Qatar to transform into outdoor art museum ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022

Qatar to transform into outdoor art museum ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022

DUBAI: Ahead of the fast-approaching FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Qatar Museums has announced an expansive public art program that will be rolled out not just in the capital city of Doha but throughout the country. The nation’s public spaces — parks, shopping zones, rail stations, hotel plazas, cultural institutions, Hamad International Airport and the eight World Cup 2022 stadiums — will be transformed into a “vast outdoor art museum,” with 40 new pieces being added to the already existing 70 pieces across the country.

Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, said in a statement, “The addition of 40 new, major works of public art this fall is a significant milestone for Qatar’s public art program. Public art is one of our most prominent demonstrations of cultural exchange, where we present works from artists of all nationalities and backgrounds. From the arrivals at the best airport in the world — Hamad International Airport — to every neighborhood in our nation, public art is there to make your experience unique."

 

 

Comprised of more than 100 artworks, the public art extravaganza will feature 40 new and commissioned pieces. New works from international heavyweights will include artists Olafur Eliasson, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, KAWS, Rashid Johnson, Ernesto Neto, Lawrence Weiner, Faye Toogood, Katharina Fritsch, and others.

Qatari and MENA region artists whose work will be presented in the public art program include Adel Abidin, Ahmed Al-Bahrani, Shouq Al-Mana, Shua’a Al-Muftah, Salman Al-Malek, Monira Al-Qadiri, Simone Fattal and Faraj Daham.

 

 

According to a press release shared by Qatar Museums, the country was among the first in the region to establish a public art program, which currently includes works from Richard Serra, Tom Claaseen, Bruce Nauman, Louise Bourgeois, Urs Fischer, Subodh Gupta, Dia Al-Azzawi and others.

“Qatar Museums’ public art program, more than anything else, serves as a reminder that art is all around us, not confined to museums and galleries, and can be enjoyed and celebrated whether you are going to work, or school, or the desert or the beach,” said Abdulrahman Ahmed Al-Ishaq, Qatar Museums’ Director of Public Art, in a statement.

The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 kicks off on Nov. 21.


Tory Burch taps Arab models Malika El-Maslouhi, Imaan Hammam for summer campaigns

Tory Burch taps Arab models Malika El-Maslouhi, Imaan Hammam for summer campaigns
Updated 10 August 2022

Tory Burch taps Arab models Malika El-Maslouhi, Imaan Hammam for summer campaigns

Tory Burch taps Arab models Malika El-Maslouhi, Imaan Hammam for summer campaigns

DUBAI: US designer Tory Burch is spotlighting Arab models in the fashion label’s latest campaigns. 

Moroccan Italian model Malika El-Maslouhi posed for the brand’s activewear Tory Sport, while Dutch Egyptian Moroccan star Imaan Hammam was spotted in the label’s latest beauty campaign.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tory Sport (@torysport)

In a series of images shared on the brand’s Instagram page this week, 23-year-old runway star El-Maslouhi wore a pleated laser cut tennis skirt with a white tank top and a blue and beige cross body bag from the fashion house’s Summer 2022 tennis collection. 

In other pictures, the model wore a monogram jacquard anorak, a matching red-and-yellow yoga set and a white polo shirt. 

This is not the first time El-Maslouhi has collaborated with the US label.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tory Sport (@torysport)

In May, the designer tapped the model to showcase her eponymous brand’s pre-Fall 2022 collection via a series of campaign images.

The catwalk star, who was born in Milan to an Italian mother and a Moroccan father, also featured in the brand’s 2022 beach edit, sporting an array of summer-ready looks in the form of floral maxi skirts, romantic dresses, crochet bucket hats, strappy sandals and printed bikinis.

El-Maslouhi made her modeling debut when she was 18 and went on to captivate the industry.

In addition to gracing the runways of storied fashion houses that most models can only dream of — such as Dior, Chanel, Valentino and Jacquemus, among others — the fashion star has also appeared in international campaigns for the likes of Off-White, Calvin Klein and Lanvin.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tory Burch (@toryburch)

Meanwhile, Tory Burch also released five new fragrances for its beauty collection this week. For that campaign, the designer, who launched her brand in 2004, worked with Moroccan Egyptian Dutch model Hammam, who starred alongside US actress Havana Rose Liu, Romanian model Alexandra Micu and more. 

For the all-white beachside shoot, Hammam wore a crochet plunged maxi dress. Her hair was tied in a bun and her makeup was kept simple and fresh. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tory Burch (@toryburch)

According to the brand, Burch’s five new fragrances — cosmic wood, divine moon, electric sky, sublime rose and mystic geranium — represent five dreams: freedom, peace, magic, love and joy. 


Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar heads to Dubai to promote new film ‘Raksha Bandhan’

Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar heads to Dubai to promote new film ‘Raksha Bandhan’
Updated 10 August 2022

Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar heads to Dubai to promote new film ‘Raksha Bandhan’

Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar heads to Dubai to promote new film ‘Raksha Bandhan’

DUBAI: Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar jetted to Dubai to promote his new film “Raksha Bandhan” and opened up about his inspiration for the movie in a conversation with newspaper Khaleej Times.

The actor stopped by the newspaper’s office in the city, along with director Aanand L. Rai, to discuss the new movie, which celebrates the Indian festival of Raksha Bandhan — a day to honor the bond between brothers and sisters.

Kumar — who was recently revealed by the Indian government to be the country’s highest tax payer from the entertainment industry — opened up about the special relationship he shares with his own sister, Alka Bhatia.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar)

“I remember when my sister was born, we were taught (to) remember to take care of her! Whatever she asks for, don’t refuse, we were told. So, highest taxpayer or not, whatever is mine is my sister’s as well. There are no two opinions about this,” said the 54-year-old actor.

In “Raksha Bandhan,” Kumar stars as the only brother in a family of five siblings. Actresses Sadia Khateeb, Smrithi Srikanth, Deepika Khanna and Sahejmeen Kaur star as the four sisters. Actress Bhumi Pednekar features as his childhood sweetheart.

Kumar also stressed that he wanted to make the film because Rai was helming the project.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar)

“The kind of film I want to do is the kind of film he makes. The kind of humor I have, is the kind of humor he has. We both have that very quirky kind of mindset when it comes to making films, and he also has an agenda while making a film; there should be some learning, some takeaways. I want to do the same kind of films and whether it is ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha,’ ‘Pad Man’ or ‘Airlift,’ I have done many films like this,” said Kumar. “I have ruined his habit because he makes one film in three years and now, in two years, he has made two films with me. And we’re preparing for a third…”

Rai, meanwhile, said he’s attracted to the actor’s simplicity which exists despite his megastar status in India and beyond. “It’s fantastic for a director to have somebody without any complexes, going all out and living the moment without any fear that there are so many films he has to live up to. He lives up to that moment. That’s very important,” said the filmmaker, famous for his films like “Tanu Weds Manu,” “Ranjhanaa,” “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan” and “Manmarziyaan.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar)

The film, Rai said, was a product of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I realized that in those few months when we were all not moving out and didn’t really know where it (Covid) would end or where it would go, we were quite insecure, living with a lot of fear. The only thing that was consistent at that moment was your family. You were eating together, sitting together, playing together; that was the only way to get rid of the fear,” said the director.

“Raksha Bandhan” releases in cinemas in the GCC on Aug. 11.


US rapper Russ to perform at Usyk-Joshua rematch in Jeddah this month

US rapper Russ to perform at Usyk-Joshua rematch in Jeddah this month
Updated 10 August 2022

US rapper Russ to perform at Usyk-Joshua rematch in Jeddah this month

US rapper Russ to perform at Usyk-Joshua rematch in Jeddah this month
  • The 29 year old achieved 10 billion streams on Spotify and Apple Music without the backing of a major label and was listed in Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list in 2019
  • He emerged during the 2010s from the Atlanta-area underground music scene, releasing dozens of independent singles and albums, all of which he made freely available to download

RIYADH: Rapper Russ Vitale is set to perform live at the world heavyweight title rematch between boxers Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk on Aug. 20 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Commonly known simply as Russ, the 29-year-old American rapper, singer, songwriter and author, who first performed in the Kingdom in 2019, lists other American rappers and the classic rock he listened to as a youngster among his inspirations.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by RUSS (@russ)

One of the most popular rappers in the world, he achieved 10 billion streams on Spotify and Apple Music without the backing of a major label, has performed sellout global tours, and was listed in Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list in 2019.

Russ emerged during the 2010s from the Atlanta-area underground music scene, releasing dozens of independent singles and albums, all of which he made freely available to download. His mainstream breakthrough came in 2017 with the platinum-certified top 10 album “There’s Really a Wolf,” before he cracked the top five of the Billboard 200 with “Zoo” in 2018 and “Shake the Snow Globe” in 2020, followed by the release of companion albums “Chomp” and “Chomp 2.”

Most recently, he collaborated with Ed Sheeran for new single “Are You Entertained,” on which Russ switches between singing and rapping.

The heavyweight title rematch between Usyk and Joshua is considered one of the biggest in the history of the sport. When they met in September 2021 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Usyk dominated the contest, earning a unanimous decision victory and three world heavyweight titles to become unified Heavyweight World Champion.