Movie review of “The Idol”: Hany Abu-Assad’s admiring fictionalized feature spotlights the underdog story of Mohammed Assaf, the winner of “Arab Idol” in 2013.
Hany Abu-Assad’s “The Idol” expands on the underdog story of Mohammed Assaf, an acclaimed Palestinian pop singer from the Gaza Strip. Assaf earned fame by winning “Arab Idol” in 2013 after trekking to auditions in Egypt.
As portrayed in this admiring fictionalized feature, Assaf just about has the power of traveling singers of myth, able to cross insurmountable barriers and sway hearts with his honeyed voice. But Abu-Assad’s filmmaking is resolutely simple in its approach and efficiently sentimental.
Assaf’s road to victory is preceded by his charming musical misadventures in childhood. The angelic Mohammed as a boy (Qais Atallah) sings and jams with his tomboyish sister, Nour (Hiba Atallah, a real find), and friends on the street and at weddings. Nour, especially, is reliable, rascally fun, a budding feminist out of necessity.
‘The Idol,’ with Qais Atallah, Tawfeek Barhom, Ahmed Al Rokh, Hiba Attalah, Kais Attalah, Abdel Kareem Barakeh. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad, from a screenplay by Abu-Assad and Sameh Zoabi. 100 minutes. Not rated. In Arabic, with English subtitles. Sundance Cinemas (21+).
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now,” “Omar”) spotlights the hardships in Mohammed’s path.
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Mohammed and Nour live and play among the tensions of Gaza. To acquire instruments, they bargain with a smuggler.
When the adult Mohammed (played by Tawfeek Barhom) musters the courage for an early audition, it has to be conducted for judges over Skype. The computer image flickers until smoke from overworked power generators fills the screen.
Abu-Assad’s ennobling treatment of Assaf’s triumph has unmistakable political undertones, but so did the real win on television, which was greeted with celebrations in the streets.
“The Idol” isn’t worshipful of instant stardom, and the story is often disconcertedly banal. Yet Abu-Assad, who wrote the script with Sameh Zoabi, mounts an idealistic appreciation of music as a way of bridging boundaries through a unifying appeal to beauty, gliding past differences in the soulful peasure of song.