Movie: The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)

It is rare to find a woman as remarkable as Joan of Arc (1412-1431) in the annals of European Middle Ages who left a lasting influence on history in her short life before she was burnt at stake when she was only 19.

The film portrays the life of the French war heroine and her efforts to reinstall the deposed French ruler whose throne was usurped by the English as the latter inched along conquering the rest of whatever was left outside their control.

Joan of Arc’s presence, deemed heavenly and miraculous at that time, boosted French morale. She literally led the French army from the front to decisive victories against the English Crown which changed the course of the battle. The French ruler managed to become King after English defeat. Joan of Arc was caught by Burgundians who were English allies. She had a sham inquisition, convicted of witchcraft in a politically motivated religious trial and subsequently hanged.

Historical drama has the license to add in fiction to history to make it a presentable whole. However it doesn’t have the license to distort history in a way that depicts major and decisive events completely falsely, unless, of course, it’s “alternate history”.

The film, therefore, is grossly misleading in so far as it depicts major historical events. One example is French betrayal of Joan of Arc after she’s captured by the English. There was no betrayal in reality and it was out of the power of the newly installed French King to help Joan out of English captivity.

The other thing that irked me greatly was the use of modern language especially the dialogues and (disappointingly) American accent of few actors. The guy who played Dauphin/King of France was a complete joke. He with his looks, hair cut, and peculiar constitution is well suited for a character of a baseball junkie in downtown Philadelphia but certainly not the King of France in the 15th century.  My rating 3/5. IMDb Link

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Movie: Ironclad (2011)

A great rebellion aided by Knights Templar breaks out in the reign of King John Lackland (r. 1199 – 1216) when he reneges on the pledges enshrined in the Magna Carta. The rebellion leads to heavy losses of English possessions in France and eventual weakening of the English Crown.

After easy victory at strategically important garrison city of Rochester, the rebels hold the castle and wait for French help as they fight the King’s mercenaries besieging the castle. The story goes through battle after battle and continuous rebel effort to defend their keep against King’s forces till they can no more.

The film’s visuals are laudable especially its excellent medieval war scenes. However it lacks an engaging plot and comes out as a pretty stale story. Seeing the baron’s wife trying to seduce the lead Templar under the vow of chastity was quite annoying really. But guess what, they do “it”, finally. My like-o-meter 4/5. IMDb Link

Movie: Takva: A Man’s Fear of God (2006)

(Country: Turkey; Language: Turkish)

It’s the story of a man living a life of piety in relative seclusion in Istanbul. He’s reluctant when he’s offered to run the affairs of a religious organisation. He accepts the job with a view to further improve his faith and serve the cause of God but ironically his new role at the organisation has a corrupting influence on him and his faith.

The protagonist is serious about practicing his religion, maintains a basic lifestyle, does not own material things, and earns his livelihood by working at a store owned by his benefactor. He is the member of a Sufi order to whose religious meetings he’s been regularly attending since his early youth.

His Sufi master, impressed with his devotion and simplicity, urges him to take on the responsibility of the finances of the Sufi order. He hesitatingly accepts the job despite having reservations about his eligibility and experience.

He is tasked with collecting rents from the properties owned by the Sufi order. He is required to travel all over the city so his master gives him a car and a driver to take him around. He is given new suits to keep a good image for the order, a fancy wristwatch to check time, a mobile phone to keep in touch with his superiors – all material possessions he disliked and never owned before. He is apprehensive of material things in his life but he must use them to fulfill his religious duties that his Sufi master has tasked him with.

As time passes, he is troubled by a sense of superiority creeping into him. He feels himself above common people due to his closeness with the great Sufi master. He is worried about his coercive and harsh treatment of tenants who don’t pay rents on time. Before he was tolerant toward vices in people and treated with gently; now he flies into rage when he sees people transgressing religious bounds. To add to his misery he regularly dreams of the devil in the form of a seductive woman tempting him to the sin of the flesh.

One day, while working at his mentor’s store, he accidentally overcharges a customer. He realises it immediately but keeps quiet and keeps the cut. He’s spiritually torn and tormented having cheated on his employer, his Sufi master and God. It turns out to be the final nail. The crisis of spirit and faith finally renders him incapacitated and crippled in the end. He is bedridden for the rest of his life.

This is a wonderful film about the corrupting influence of power and money on men including great religious figures who cultivate the image of incorruptibility. The Sufi master shown as beyond worldly affairs has a major hand in corrupting the simple and devout protagonist. I’d rate it at 4/5. IMDb Link

Movie: Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams (2006)

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(Countries: Bosnia, Croatia, Austria, Germany; Language: Bosnian)

This film depicts the degree to which life in contemporary Sarajevo is affected by Yugoslav war of the 1990s. The story takes its cue from the systematic rapes of 20,000 women by Serb soldiers.

It’s about a single mother who lives with 12-year old girl in relative poverty. The girl is known to be the daughter of a Muslim martyr of war but unlike other children of martyrs, she doesn’t know the circumstances of her father’s death. Other children think her claim is dubious when she fails to produce the death certificate of her father that is required for gratis school trip. She will have to pay for the trip if she can’t prove that her father was a martyr.

The girl demands proof from her mother but in vain. When things heat up between the mother and the girl, it is revealed that she was actually conceived after her mother was raped by Serb soldiers at a camp. This brutal realisation that she is actually daughter of a rapist Serb serves to bring her closer to her mother with whom she hitherto had strained relationship.

It’s a moving tale of love, war and fate. Plot and acting get 3/5. IMDb Link

Movie: Cairo 678 (2010)

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(Arabic: فيلم ٦٧٨; Country: Egypt; Language: Arabic)

Egypt is notorious for sexual harassment of women and this film focuses on the spread and magnitude of this problem. It’s based on a true story about the first case of sexual harassment ever to be registered in Egypt. A year later the government enacted law to criminalize sexual harassment (before that it was not an offense!).

In this fictionalized account, a group of three women from different backgrounds come together when they individually and persistently experience sexual harassment to take on the harassers and the authorities who are indifferent to their plight. Women are usually harassed on buses. The lead character, when riding bus, keeps a small knife and whoever gets closer to her is discreetly attacked with the knife. A rush ensues after every attack and nobody knows who did it. The infamy of a mysterious person on buses who injures men causes harassers to be careful and sexual harassment of women riders reduces.

Victims of sexual harassment are forced to keep mum and discouraged from registering their cases as it would ruin their reputation and that of their families. One of them goes on a revenge campaign to take on harassers on buses and injures them with a pen knife. In a sort of burlesque, poetic justice sort of turn, not a single guy who is attacked reports officially to the police. Because if they do, they confess to being harassers.

Despite inexplicable twists in the plot and sometimes wooden dialogue, it was a  very good watch. My rating along with the link is 4/5. IMDb Link

Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror by Tariq Ali

Image(First published: 2005)

This oddly titled book is a collection of political commentaries written in the aftermath of London bombings of July 7 2005. It covers British politics and media coverage of “War on Terrorism” around that time.

It particularly discusses Britain’s role in the build up to the Iraq war. A leaked secret memo from 10 Downing Street made it clear even before 2005 that, as we know now, the dossier justifying the invasion of Iraq was known to be full of lies. The author contends that Tony Blair had already decided to back George Bush on Iraq, and only after having decided on that he (Blair) looked for evidence to justify his policy.

The US and UK devised two schemes to justify Iraq war. First, they decided to trap Saddam through UN arms inspectors. They hoped that Saddam would refuse and that would provide a justification for the war but Saddam played a shrewd hand and circumvented the plan. Later on, lies about WMD were prepared, a big media hype was created and finally the invasion of Iraq was proceeded with.

The highlight of the book is in the detailed account of Blair government’s spat with the BBC. The BBC is often criticised for its uncritical war coverage in Iraq and its conformist approach toward government’s policy. This became true only after the ouster of the the Director General of the BBC, one courageous Greg Dyke, was engineered by Blair’s spin doctors.

A BBC journalist named Gilligan under Dyke’s instructions interviewed the UN weapons inspector David Kelly who informed the BBC that the evidence for the war in Iraq was completely made up. Later, David Kelly was found killed. His death was considered a suicide but something was amiss. This led to a big controversy which resulted into an inquiry led by Lord Hutton.

To cut long story short, the author argues, that it was Tony Blair and his chief spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, who made sure BBC is censured and its top positions filled with toadies who wouldn’t be critical of the government’s policies toward the Bush doctrine of war.

There is another long article that provides a detailed analysis of the role British media played in the run up to the war. It’s worth reading. There is another article about Britain’s current “first-past-the-pole” electoral system, which he calls “unrepresentative” system of a “representative” democracy.

One example of the system in place in the UK comes from 2005 general elections. Labour in that election got a mere 35% of the popular vote. Given the nature of the system, since all other parties got fewer votes than Labour, the later was to form the government and continue with its policies even though in real democratic terms Labour was unpopular with the majority of British voters.

The author argues for a change in the British electoral system towards more representative and accountable governance than this system currently produces. On my rating scale this book gets 5/5. AMAZON LINK

Movie: Days of Glory (2006)

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(French: Indigènes); Country: Algeria; Languages: French and Arabic)

This film is by a French-Algerian director. WWII forms the backdrop. French colonial government in Algeria and Tunisia enlists locals into the army and takes them to mainland Europe to fight. Those native soldiers are indoctrinated into believing that they are fighting for their “French motherland” but most of them are poor folks who enlisted in the army for money.

While fighting in French trenches, in order to survive, they forget their personal lives back home and the reason they joined the army (money) and must think of themselves as “sons of the glorious France” so that they remain steadfast in the battle and therefore win it. These contradictory feelings are so craftily embedded in the narrative of the film, which makes it without doubt one of the finest war dramas I’ve seen, like the Bosnian movie (No Man’s Land).

The film also depicts 3rd grade treatment those Algerian and Tunisian soldiers received from high ranking officials. Those footsoldiers were sent to the most dangerous combat operations to maintain the frontline, they bore the brunt of death and injury before others, but when it came to promotions or even leave, white homeboys were preferred over Franco-African soldiers and officers (mixed breed), and those of mixed breed were preferred over the natives.

It’s actually based on a true story. Those soldiers who fought for the “French motherland” were deprived of their military pensions after Algeria achieved independence. Apparently, this film led to change in French law in regards to WWII soldiers from the colonies fighting under French command.

The unmistakable humanity of the film and its depictions of fear and vulnerability of apparently battle-hardened soldiers must get it a straight 5/5. IMDb Link

Movie: The Madness of King George (1994)

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“His Majesty was all powerful and all knowing, but he wasn’t quite there”

King George III (1738-1820) is known in the annals of British monarchy as the Mad King. He suffered from recurrent mental illness that caused him delirium and hallucinations.

A plot was hatched by a court faction supporting the heir apparent to have the King declared insane by the Act of Parliament and therefore install heir apparent as de facto King.

The film fictionalises the King’s struggle to come to terms with his deteriorating mental health amid his increasingly erratic relation with his son, the Crown Prince who leads the parliamentary faction wanting to declare the King unfit for monarchical duties.

It’s a funny and fantastic piece of film making. The difficulties of an all-powerful King with his waning health and tainted public image give it a sad, humbling tinge. Nigel Hawthorne as King George III has done a commendable job in his role.

Helen Mirren, who played Queen Consort, has established herself in playing royal characters (Elizabeth I in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”, Elizabeth II in “The Queen”, Countess Tolstoy in “The Last Station” etc)

Although it’s a low-budget Channel 4 production, and a bit old, yet anyone with a thing for old English and British royal history will enjoy it,  methinks. 4/5 is how I see it. IMDb Link

ترے غم کو جاں کی تلاش تھی ترے جاں نثار چلے گۓ
تری رہ میں کرتے تھے سر طلب، سرِ رہگزار چلے گۓ

تری کج ادائ سے ہار کے شبِ انتظار چلی گئ
مرے ضبطِ حال سے رُوٹھ کر مرے غم گسار چلے گۓ

نہ سوالِ وصل، نہ عرضِ غم، نہ حکایتیں نہ شکایتیں
ترے عہد میں دلِ زار کے سب اختیار چلے گۓ

یہ ہمیں تھے جن کے لباس پر سرِ رہ سیاہی لکھی گئ
یہی داغ تھے جو سجا کے ہم سرِ بزمِ یار چلے گۓ

نہ رہا جنونِ رخِ وفا، یہ رسن یہ دار کرو گے کیا
جنہیں جرمِ عشق پہ ناز تھا وہ گنہگار چلے گۓ

فیض احمد فیض

آج بازار میں پا بجولاں چلو

چشمِ نم، جانِ شوریدہ کافی نہیں
تہمتِ عشقِ پوشیدہ کافی نہیں
آج بازار میں پا بجولاں چلو

دست افشاں چلو، مست و رقصاں چلو
خاک بر سر چلو، خوں بداماں چلو
راہ تکتا ہے سب شہرِ جاناں چلو

حاکمِ شہر بھی، مجمعِ عام بھی
تیرِ الزام بھی، سنگِ دشنام بھی
صبحِ ناشاد بھی، روزِ ناکام بھی

ان کا دم ساز اپنے سوا کون ہے
شہرِ جاناں میں اب با صفا کون ہے
دستِ قاتل کے شایاں رہا کون ہے

رختِ دل باندھ لو دل فگارو چلو
پھر ہمیں قتل ہو آئیں یارو چلو

فیض احمد فیض