Coming out of the viewing for ‘One Night in Al-Aqsa: The Movie’, I was left with a distinct feeling of unresolved tension. I’m not entirely sure if that was the film-maker – Abrar Hussain’s – intention. In fact, I’m not sure that he himself knew what his intention was in making this – it must be said, beautiful – depiction of one of the most iconic and important religious spaces in the world.
Whilst it can be said that this film is a continuation of Hussain’s earlier work ‘One Day in the Haram’ – a film that gives audiences a view into a domain that is off-limits to all other Abrahamic faiths save for Islam – the tone in this film, has changed. Instead, we are thrust into the middle of a sacred site that has been in contention between the world’s three foremost religions for thousands of years. There is therefore little question as to why the voice of the film’s narrator is palpably in a conflict between the RP cadences of an old-school BBC journalist (attempting to project an objectivity), and the outright anger at the plight of the Palestinian people at the hands of an often heavy-handed Jewish regime. Not that this is in any way a misstep. Conflict is unavoidable.
Al-Aqsa used to be the location of the Second Temple, so the Jews claim. Until it was destroyed by marauding Romans. Until it was in turn established as the third holiest site in Islam. It is therefore difficult to make the case that any portrayal of Al-Aqsa that wishes to be seen as idiomatic, and aptly communicate the unreserved emotion of a person that believes in it’s spiritual significance, could ever be an objective take. I suspect that even if the film were made by the most terrestrial atheist, it would almost certainly fall prey to a superiority complex given the site’s history of religious conflict, and thereby totally fail as impartial record. In that sense, the film is a step forward for Hussain, as his previous film is noticeably more subdued, whilst this one is evocative, expressive.
The narrative progression of the film seems to somewhat mirror the film-makers own progression of views, as the frustrations of filming on-the-ground wore away at the “religious harmony” narrative that opens the film. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly imparting knowledge that would have been otherwise inaccessible, and for that, the film must be commended.
A more consistent feature of the film is the visual production, which straddles the line between solemn spiritual reverence, a sumptuous visual homage and the prosaic. The intimate peek into some of the most revered interior spaces on the planet must be particularly praised, and the cinematography has managed to capture the wonder that any human being would express in an encounter.
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