"The West doesn't understand anything about Islam", according to Swedish director Tarik Saleh

“The West doesn’t understand anything about Islam”, according to Swedish director Tarik Saleh

The filmmaker presented to festival-goers Boy from Heaven, a politico-religious thriller inspired by Name of the Rose and taking place around the Islamic University of al-Azhar, in Cairo.

The West is both obsessed with Islam and at the same time does not understand this religion at all“, told AFP on Saturday the director Tarik Saleh, whose film Boy from Heaven is in the running for the Palme d’Or. If the feature film has no educational aim, it documents with precision different doctrines of Sunni Islam. And offers viewers a glimpse, from the inside, of a little known or even depreciated world.

“I really think the West doesn’t understand Islam”insists the one who explains having a report “staff” to this religion. Almost five years after the release of Cairo confidential , the 50-year-old Swedish filmmaker, born to an Egyptian father, is back with a politico-religious thriller that denounces the authoritarian excesses of Marshal al-Sissi’s power and offers a dive into the world of Sunni Islam. A dive that is reminiscent The name of the rose , the novel by Umberto Eco then successful film, taking place in an abbey in the Middle Ages. Mere coincidence? “I was re-reading this book when I asked myself: ‘What if I told a story like this but in a Muslim context?'”recalls Tarik Saleh to AFP.

A love letter to Cairo

As Confidential Cairowhich was filmed in Morocco, Boy from Heaven could not be shot in Egypt, but in Turkey. “I haven’t been back to Egypt since 2015, when filming the Cairo confidential where the Egyptian security services ordered us to leave the country. Since then, I have been an undesirable person who, if he sets foot on Egyptian soil, will undoubtedly be arrested., he assures. The man who discovered his father’s country at the age of 10 explains that he holds a special place in his life: “I love the Egyptians, their language… When I hear it, it’s like music to me. Even if my level of Arabic is catastrophic!“, he quips. Moreover, anchoring one’s films in this country is a way of “reappropriate”.

Fiction and not documentary, the film also has a strong autobiographical scope: “Like the main character, my grandfather is from a small fishing village and studied in al azhar university», indicates Tarik Saleh in reference to the main religious institution in the Sunni world, located in the historic center of Cairo. “In a wayhe continues, this film is a love letter to Egypt and a tribute to my grandparents.”

However, Tarik Saleh has not always been a director. He started his career as a street artist, before turning to documentaries. In 2005, the documentary he produced on the Guantanamo military prison won awards in the United States and Europe. “I hate being a director, he says seriously when AFP asks him about his vocation as a filmmaker. I come from the world of art and painting and I like to be alone. I hate being with 200 people on a film set. Even if I like the cinema, it is always very painful for me”.

And to confide that he sees himself more as “a writer”. Like a Harlan Coben or a John Grisham, two masters of crime fiction, the filmmaker nourishes each of his storylines with never-ending plots. “Each time I am told to simplify because otherwise no one will be able to follow”. “In addition to being my best friend, he is for me an incredible director and screenwriter”decides with AFP his favorite actor, Fares Fares.


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