Arts & Culture

Using Abstractions to Depict the Prophet in Cinema


Interview with film critic İhsan Kabil

-Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind on the subject of "Prophets and the Cinema" are films about Jesus. What do you have to say about the approach of Western cinema to Jesus?

Ever since the time of silent movies, cinema has approached Jesus' life in a very serious manner. American directors, in particular, depicted Jesus' life and put it on the screen from beginning to end with huge productions. Stars performed in these films, and later they were made in the cinemascope format. Usually they were made in a legendary atmosphere during the silent movies period.

-What is the general stand taken in these films?

Along with Jesus' life, different periods of Christianity were seriously depicted. However, although a religious work is made in these films, there is no concern about what can be said about today. Generally, cinema took a close and sincere stand on Jesus and Christianity. Even if there were occasional exceptions, Westerners were respectful of religion and prophets in the films on Jesus.

Also, even if Jesus' life was not directly taken as the subject, figures who would save the world were identified with Jesus. At any rate, usually religion, the church, the Bible and monastery life were used from time to time in films as a whole.

-Like the advantages of material means and people trained in the cinema, doesn't Christianity provide a broad advantage for the cinema due to the absence of a prohibition on depiction of prophets?

Images and likenesses are widely used in Christianity. Even though Protestantism is a little sensitive on the subject, just as in pre-Islamic times, there is no absolute prohibition.

-Well, how can Muslims who want to make some accomplishments in the cinema get around this situation?

Computer techniques present great opportunities for the cinema today - changes in place, special effects and animation. Due to this kind of animation, everything related to what Ibn Arabi called imagination and fancy can be done better. Without resorting to grand depiction, it can do wonderful things with special abstractions. Abstraction is a very important technique for us. Since we can not use exact pictures, this means should be used.

For example, in the animated film "The Last Prophet," which took our Prophet's life as a topic, war scenes were fuzzy. The emphasis on violence was depicted for us in a special way. This is truly a plus. The important thing is to bring these together and open the way for using cinema like this.

-What kind of a potential exists on this subject in the Islamic world?

Looking at the Islamic world, I put Iranian cinema in a very special place in regard to cinema language. Thanks to Iranian cinema, the language of cinema has come to a very refined point. For example, in the Egyptian manner there is a fierier, emotion-laden, dramatic, arabesque style similar to our Yesilcam. Let's accept it; even "The Call" is that kind of film. For example, in my opinion, Mustafa Akad's next film, "Desert Lion," was a step forward for cinema.

When looked at from this point, Iran cinema gives priority to esthetics and refinement. We see the best example of this in the film of "Mary."

This school is an exciting example for us. I believe this richness will increase even more.

-Well, what is it that gives Iranian cinema an edge?

According to my observations and artistic perception, I can say this: It is a matter of the cultural heritage in Iran and additions made to this heritage. Iran stood up for its culture both before and after the Islamic period. There was no dramatic breaking point in Iran's culture. The phenomenon of tradition found solid form in Iran in the pre-Islamic, Islamic, "modernization" and Islamic revolution periods. And today Iran is developing its own art with a new Islamic perception without getting a complex, without narrowing its horizons and by taking nourishment from sources feeding that tradition. Iranian arts find form in music, pictures, legend, miniatures, literature and the cinema. Iranian cinema benefits from all of these. A Persian carpet motif can be made into an image in the cinema.

Another distinct aspect of Iranian cinema is its calmness as compared to the action of American cinema. It is made according to the rhythm and calm flow of life. In a sense, it matches Europe's contemplative French cinema. As a result, we see the East's calm, unhurried, contemplative state in Iranian cinema.

-If a film on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were to be made today, how would you evaluate the potential for this in the Islamic world?

The deceased Mustafa Akad accomplished something and this encompassed everyone wave by wave. At this point if something were made on the Prophet's life, it could remain inferior to Akad's work. This vision should not be shaken. For example, instead of an historical film, it could take place today like the many examples we see in the West. Works conveying the thought of the Prophet and using allusion to him would be more meaningful. Films using allusion tend to be more effective.

-How could such a project find life in Turkey?

It could be made on the Sufi path. I think that a better approach to the Prophet would be to combine cinema esthetic with the language of Sufism. We are not successful with historical films in the Turkish cinema. We fall short in either décor, set or historical reality. The miraculous nature of Sufism and states like the spiritual connection of a dervish to his sheik, vigilance, observation, contemplation, and the eye of the heart can present a good potential for the cinema's suggestion and expression with different methods. When the two on them fuse, there can be an interesting chemical reaction. Of course, the scenario is very important here, because in the cinema the scenario is the most important starting point. Maybe a good writer can do the job.


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