By Loubna Flah
By Loubna Flah
Morocco World News
Casablanca, July 8, 2012
“All that glitters is not gold” is a proverb usually brandished to question the validity of first impressions. If we scramble the order of words, we can also say that “Gold is not all that glitters”. Gold can also be used to label that black, sticky and viscous liquid whose discovery has been a real breakthrough in history. If the film Black Gold does not dwell on the impact of oil discovery on international relations, still it gives a poignant representation of the metamorphosis provoked by oil at all aspects of life especially on the system of beliefs in the Arab peninsula.
Black Gold is a drama epic directed by Jean- Jacques Annaud who has aggregated a versatile experience in exploring foreign cultures. The film stars Tahar Rahim a promising talent from Algerian origins, Anthony Banderas whose brown complexion and dark hair could not mold him totally in the role of an Arab prince (Naseeb).
The British actor Mark Strong plays Nasseb’s foe whose sons are adopted by Nasseb after his defeat in a tribal battle. The characterization could have been more authentic, had Annaud cast some Arab actors in the lead roles.
The film relates the journey of a candid Arab prince propelled by his destiny from the stillness of libraries to the mayhem of battlefields. Under the merciless desert, two tribes fight for land and honor. Ammar, Sultan of Salmaah (Mark strong) is defeated and has to agree with his foe prince Naseeb on the terms of the peace treaty. The two men agree that neither of the two tribes would lay their hand on a vast desert area called the “yellow belt”. In return, Naseeb would adopt Ammar’s two sons Saleeh (Akin Gazi) and Auda (Tahar Rahim) to prevent any confrontation between both tribes in the future.
Nevertheless, the arrival of an American engineer revealing that underneath the hot sand of the “yellow belt” lie huge reserves of oil raises more tensions among the two tribes. After the killing of Ammar’s son Saleeh, Naseeb as a foxy leader decides to marry his daughter Leila to Auda in order to rally him definitely to his ranks and to undermine his father’s strength. From this point starts the spiral of skirmishes and violence that would shake the whole region.
Black Gold is visually stunning with its sweeping desert vistas, scores of warriors, camels and tanks. The dialogues are subtle, philosophical and eloquent with many premonitions predicting that the region is in the brinks of an irreversible change triggered by the discovery of oil. The dialogue between Ammar and his son Auada sums up admirably the opposition between ambition and tradition.
Ammar belongs to a conservative school still anchored in tribal and religious traditions whereas Auda is a flexible visionary who looks desperately for a compromise between his identity and the inevitable progress. The conversation about women’s status with the Zamiri woman played by actress and supermodel Liya Kebede” is a subtle criticism against women’s effacement in Conservative Arab societies. She deplores the segregation of women in Arab tribes by asserting that men and women should walk in life side by side since they are “like thirst and water”.
The film draws the contrast between the virginity of the Arabian Desert still unaffected by the curse of oil and the rampant corruption of ethics. The arrival of the American plane flying over a city locked in a primitive life foreshadows a sweeping change that will strike the whole region. Indeed, with the discovery of oil, the Arab tribes are dragged in a spiral of retaliation and violence nurtured by human greed.
The movie hints at several occasions on gender issues in Arab society but without being harshly critical of women’s segregation. In the film, Arab Women are often confined in their Harem totally alienated from the chauvinistic struggles for power and wealth. The film depicts Arab Women in “Hodeika as totally effaced behind their veil walking in the shadow of their men.
The film also reveals the prominence of religion in decision making in both tribes. In fact, most of prince Ammar’s advisors are religious scholars. The tension grows also between two religious schools, a fundamentalist and a reformist trend represented by prince Auda himself who shows a great flexibility in coping with the forthcoming change.
Though Jean Jacques Annaud tried hard to elude from the orientalist portrayal of the “Arab”, the Black Gold falls prey to some classical clichés about “Arabs” particularly in the brutality of tribal wars reminiscent of the “Barbary” often attributed to Arabs in the orientalist narrative.
Besides The depiction of the Arab tribes as a primitive society overwhelmed by epidemics and waiting for” the western savior” has again an Orientalist touch to it. Overall the film touches upon different themes ranging from the curse of oil, gender in the Arab peninsula, religion and politics yet in a very cautious manner without a through deconstruction.