As the Huffington Post points out, the film screened at DIFF within twenty-four hours of December’s Coptic Christian church bombing in Cairo. The novel on which the film is based ends with such a bombing, an echo of the New Year’s Eve bombing in 2010.
The book centers around a popular Muslim televangelist Hatem El Shenawi and was written between 2009 to 2012. It’s both a thriller and a strong portrait of the final Mubarak years, at least when it isn’t being a discourse on religion. El Shenawi is described in the novel as the “most popular and highest-paid TV preacher in Egypt,” and Essa doesn’t shy from showing off his wide familiarity with Islamic scholarship and history.
The book takes its time with digressions on religion. But based on the reviews, the film clearly doesn’t. From The Hollywood Reporter: “Starting as the portrait of a popular TV preacher and gradually morphing into an absorbing thriller, the fast-paced screenplay doesn’t dawdle around.”
According to Variety, the film — which opened in Egypt yesterday — is “certain to be one of the most discussed movies in the territory.”
Yet Variety, despite its positive appraisal, doesn’t think the film will get international play: “Lead performer Amr Saad has heaps of charm, and many programmers should be happy to push a film that counters the noxious notion of Islam as a religion of uniform intolerance, yet apart from showcases and scattered fests, it’s hard to see more than a possible Francophone release.”
Read an extract from the translation, which opens, “THE MAKEUP ARTIST dabbed powder on Sheikh Hatem’s forehead with the fnesse of a professional.”
An interview from ArabLit: “I Do Not Write Novels As a Political Act”
On AhramOnline, an interview with director Magdy Ahmed Ali