France / Egypt, 1997 (MIFF 1998, East of Broadway)
Director: Youssef Chahine
Veteran Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine ventures into twelfth century Andalusia to tell the tale of Avérroès, an influential Islamic philosopher. Religious fundamentalists protested against Avérroès', and his writings were unceremoniously burnt. Fortunately, his followers copied the manuscripts and smuggled them out of the country.
The life of Avérroès in certain respects mirrors that of Chahine himself. Chahine's last feature, L'Emigré, was banned following protests by fundamentalists. "I decided to use that experience as the basis of a film", Chahine explains. "Which is why I resurrected an old dream, which was to make a film about the Golden Age of Islam, about Arab Andalusia and true Islam which is extraordinarily tolerant."
Women play a crucial role in the film. Says Chahine, "Cinema is anti-feminist. It says women are different. That isn't true. In Destiny, Avérroès and his wife, the poet Marwan and his wife, are model couples. Men and women are equal. They support each other".
Destiny is more than an historical tale though. It is fitted with, of all things, lush music and grand song. In Chahine's words, "In a single day, I expect to laugh, cry. sing. I may even be locked up in jail. A film should contain all those things. One of the things which I find most painful is when fundamentalists say they want to stop artists singing and dancing. That's serious".
"The most courageous frontal attack on Islamic fundamentalism to come out of Arab cinema to date... a blunt allegory condemning the politically driven fanaticism of our times." - Variety
Born in 1926 in Alexandria, Youssef Chahine has been making films since 1949. He first attended the Cannes Film Festival in 1951 with Le Fils du Nil. Since that time he has made dozens of features, many of them awarded at major European festivals. In 1979 he received the Silver Bear and Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival for Alexandrie Pourquoi, the first in an autobiographical trilogy. Destiny is Chahine's 33rd film - it won the 50th Anniversary Prize at Cannes in 1997.