There are as many paths to God as there are souls on Earth. — old Sufi proverb
Father Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul completes the “desert trilogy” that Tunisian-born writer-director Nacer Khemir launched with the insufferably inert Wanderers of the Desert (Al-Haymun, 1984). Bab’Aziz is livelier, more emotionally engaging. It revolves around the trek, through red desert sands, by an elderly blind darvesh (or dervish) and Ishtar, his young granddaughter. What is the “correct path” to the religious gathering for which they are aiming? Aziz explains to a stranger that the trick is to keep walking. Well taught by her grandfather, Ishtar adds, “Those who have faith will never get lost.”
The first, overhead shot of Aziz shows him whirling and collapsing in a sculpted pit. In reality, he doesn’t intend to make the gathering. He will instead stumble on his destined gravesite, die and be buried there by a new disciple. “It is time to discover,” he explains, “all that I have lost.”
Along the way, to keep Ishtar warm, he has been spinning a tale about a young man, perhaps himself, who chooses a committed spiritual way of life. The story is repeatedly interrupted, sometimes by strangers whom the pair come across who have tales of their own lives to tell. Hassan, for instance, seeks vengeance for his brother’s murder by a red-haired darvesh; but after he saves Hassan’s life, this “enemy” discloses that Hassan’s brother wanted his own death, choosing love—literally, burial with his beloved—over life: “Only God knows what true love is.”
Khemir has said he made this film to show “an open, tolerant and friendly Islamic culture, full of love and wisdom . . . an Islam that’s different from the one depicted by the media in the aftermath of 9/11.”
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