In the heart of Istanbul and specifically in the famous Istiklal Street, crowds of cinema-goers attended the 37th edition of Istanbul Film Festival. Throughout 11 nights, tens of films were screened the most important of which were in celebration of the 20th century's icons.
Looking for Oum Kalthoum is directed by the Iranian Shirin Neshat. Although Neshat faced obstacles in filming, whenever the film is screened she became more certain that she was right for tackling this legendary figure in the world of Arabic singing.
Although Oum Kalthoum’s voice wasn’t strange to Neshat due to her upbringing, she didn’t know Arabic. She settled in the West, leaving her country that was creeping persistently towards the Middle Ages.
The two screenings of her film were a sold out, where the sweeping majority was of the youth generation, who didn’t live this era and perhaps didn’t even hear Oum Kalthoum’s name. Here at last they have discovered the tunes without comprehending the meanings of the songs. Undoubtedly, their warm applause at the end of the screenings revealed that they realised the several messages the film bore, along with the challenges that the renowned songstress faced and how she overcame worn-out customs and conventions until she reached this elevated status.
The film wasn’t a biopic but it was a film within a film in which the actress playing the director role was stressed and oppressed and who was trying to imitate her subject matter. While not likening herself to Oum Kalthoum, she is deeply fascinated with her as a real icon saying, “I am also looking for Oum Kalthoum as an example to follow."
Egyptian actress Yasmin Raeis played ably the middle part of Oum Kalthoum’s life. This wasn’t strange since Raeis was the protagonist of late director Mohamed Khan’s The Factory Girl which won almost 15 awards.
The festival also showed a documentary titled Maria by Callas directed by Tom Volf about the Greek soprano Maria Callas (1923-1977), who is considered the greatest opera songstress in the post-World War II period. It seems that four decades had to pass after Callas’ death in order that the world see her speaking about herself in very intimate words and a spontaneous manner reflecting weaknesses in her personality. All this was shown through rare colour clips taken behind the scenes as well as 8mm film, intermingling with live recordings and sorrowful messages.
Maria led an exceptional fiery life; a part of her emotions were vague. It was as if she were an old Greek tragic heroine who was driven to her inevitable downfall. Her marriage was on the rocks after she experienced love at first sight with billionaire Aristotle Onassis. She didn’t realise that the world of money can’t go hand in hand with her dreams and fragile emotions. Thus, gloom got the best of her which led to her death, her ashes thrown to the Aegean Sea.
Not far away from this period, the documentary Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion and Disco, written and directed by James Crump, took us back to one of the most exciting eras on the political, cultural and social levels. It was the 60s which started with the Beatles through the 1968 student movement in France with all the baggage of revolt, absurd ideology, and its stark and wild colours.
The originally Puerto Rican talented American artist Lopez (1943-1987) was the epitome of this period. He was groundbreaking in the world of fashion through his designs and drawings that seemed at the time madness incarnated and drove some to call him the ‘Fashion Picasso’ in an allusion to the famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. He approached the elite whether in Paris or New York. The film showed Hollywood actresses mourning him with sadly emotional words after dying of complications of AIDS.
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