I usually shy away from writing about a film I haven't watched and I'll admit, Moustapha Akkad's 'The Message' is one such film. Although it was shown at the last -- alas literally -- Dubai International Film Festival in its newly restored 4K form, I didn't get a chance to watch it there. DIFF was always a place where the motto "too many great films, too little time and only one me" stood true.
But now Gianluca Chakra and his Front Row Filmed Entertainment are releasing the newly restored version throughout the Middle East, just in time for Eid-Al-Fitr, the holiday which marks the end of the Holy month of Ramadan for Muslims worldwide.
'The Message' has a particular history because its filmmaker, the visionary Moustapha Akkad chose to film it in two version, simultaneously in English and Arabic. The English version stars Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas and Damien Thomas and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score, while the Arabic version stars Egyptian actor Abdallah Gheith and the legendary Syrian stage, television and film actress Mouna Wasef. Both versions will be released throughout the MENA region and the film has already received the OK of the censors board in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom, as you may have read in my Diaries, has recently approved for films to be screened in public settings and perhaps 'The Message' represents the idyllic movie for the still-ultra-conservative country.
But 'The Message' was groundbreaking back in 1976 when it was first released, though never in GCC countries, and remains a pioneering piece of art today. It chronicles the life and times of the Prophet Muhammed and serves as an introduction to early Islamic history. Though, in keeping with Islamic tradition, it offered a disclaimer at the start of the film:
Regardless, the film was still banned in most Arab countries and received a backlash from countries like Saudi and Kuwait, the latter having initially promised to back the production financially but then pulling out.
Since I can't offer a personal and more insightful view into 'The Message' and what this newly restored version by the late filmmaker's son Malek Akkad means, I turned to a producer, writer, director, actor and all around Renaissance man I know and adore.
The great Ziad H. Hamzeh who, in his usual flair and cinematic elegance, wrote back with these words about the importance and timeliness of 'The Message' screening in today's ultra divided, chaotic world. I'll leave the famous last words on the film's re-release to him.