Based on the true-life story of Mohammed Assaf, The Idol follows a young Palestinian native's journey from child musician all the way to the glittering lights of Arab Idol, the Middle East's version of the reality television show.
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ilms set in and around Palestine, or even make reference to Palestine, are inherently going to draw a conclusion on the conflict. It's the same of any film that deals in a geography that's contentious and open to debate and discussion. However, from the very beginning, The Idol and director Hany Abu-Assad makes the choice to acknowledge the situation, but not address it. After all, this isn't a film about the Gaza Strip or Palestine, it's about a young man and his voice.
he film is split into two halves, beginning with a childhood in Gaza where Mohammed, his sister Nour and two other friends are trying to form a band. In order to do so, they fish water out of the sea and sell them and perform at weddings to keep themselves going. It's all quite affable and charming, with the child actors showing a huge amount of talent and never straying too far into sentimentality. Likewise, Abu-Assad's direction and editing keeps it moving along at a strong pace and the conflict surrounding them is touched upon briefly, but almost dismissed as a part of the landscape.
owever, there is, of course, a Tragic Incident™ that changes the course of everyone's lives and sets the film up for the second act. Here, in the second act, Mohammed is now a teenager who's desperate to get out of Gaza as he fears it will kill him. Desperate for another chance, he enlists the help of a local musician and gets noticed by a local television station who puts him on the path to Arab Idol. Between this, a girl form his youth comes into play and gives the film a romantic element to it all.
s you're watching The Idol, it's clear that the film is essentially akin to the short films that play before each act on the real-life show and it gives quite a perfunctory catalogue of the story. There's the ever-supportive parents, the childhood friend who's now become something of an enemy, the aforementioned Significant / Tragic Incident and the eventual triumph. What makes it different, of course, is that it's about a Palestinian teenager trying to do all this and the baggage that comes with it. The transition from the second to third act focuses on trying to break the border and make it to Egypt where the auditions are being held and it really catapults the film along.
he performances all feel natural and uninhibited and Tawfeek Barhom's performance as Mohammed Assaf is impressive; you can really feel the strain of it all through his performance. Moreover, the music by the real-life Mohammed Assaf is beautiful and emotional, which adds to it all. Overall, it's a well-told, if familiar story about a young man's dreams in an unusual place. Nothing particularly new, but still affecting all the same.