Al-Ahram Weekly Online   16 - 22 February 2006
Issue No. 782
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Timely release

A new Danish film about suspicions surrounding Palestinians in Copenhagen advocates intercultural dialogue. Samir Farid writes from Berlin

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East meets West in Berlin International Film Festival: The Danish film 1:1 (En Til En or One to One) directed by Annette K Olesen

The 56th Berlin International Film Festival taking place these days in the German capital witnessed the screening of the Danish film 1:1 (En Til En or One to One) directed by Annette K Olesen in the panorama section. The film was produced before the caricature controversy but its screening, while expressions of frustration over the issue still make press material, is significant. As 1:1 deals with the relationship between the Danish people and Arab Muslim immigrants and refugees in Denmark, it has become one of the festival's major cultural and political events, with its news-making headlines on the front pages of German and international newspapers.

Produced by the production company of Lars Von Trier, considered one of the few genius filmmakers in the history of cinema, this is the third feature film written and directed by Olesen, who has quickly shot to fame as one of the most promising young filmmakers in Denmark in the past five years. Her first feature film SmŞulykker (Minor Mishaps, 2002) won the Blue Angel award in the Berlin festival's official competition. Her second was Forbrydelser (In Your Hands, 2004).

The main cast of 1:1 consists of Mohamed-Ali Bakier and Mohamed Samhi, both acting for the first time, besides stage actor Subhi Hassan, Joy K Petersen, Anette St÷velbők, Helle Hertz, Jonas Busekist and Brian Lentz.

The opening credits show housing blocks built to shelter the poor on the peripheries of the Danish capital Copenhagen in the 1940s. In one such neighbourhood the events of the film unfold. The young Palestinian man Shadi (Bakier) and the young Danish girl Mie (Petersen) live a Romeo-and-Juliet-like love story which creates some friction between their families. The Palestinian family consists of a taxi driver father, a mother, Shadi, his brother Tareq (Hassan) and a sister. The Danish family consists of a social worker mother S÷s, 16-year-old Mie and her 19-year-old brother Per (Busekist). Both Shadi and Tareq, who dreams of becoming a professional boxer and winning the Danish championship, train in a gym run by Mo (Samhi). The gym's security guard Ole (Lentz) is strongly built but has a child-like innocence. His favourite hobbies are spending time with his pet German Shepherd Congo, picking up policemen conversations on his car radio and volunteering to assist them as he seeks to help the victory of good over evil.

Late at night in one of the empty streets of the neighbourhood, Ole finds Per unconscious, with a wound in his head and blood flowing from it. In a deep coma he remains in the intensive care of a hospital for the rest of the events. Coincidentally on the same night Shadi finds his older brother Tareq, who was previously convicted for assault, cleaning his bloodstained clothes in the bathroom. Tareq refuses to explain the situation to Shadi, who later learns about Mie's brother Per, and suspects his own brother. The police also suspect the foreign immigrants of being behind the incident. Similarly, one of Per's friends tells Mie to ask Shadi about what happened. At first Mie is surprised but eventually she also suspects Shadi when he is not beside her during the ordeal. The mother S÷s starts to feel guilty for moving with her children into the neighbourhood of immigrants.

Ole overhears a conversation between Tareq and Shadi in the gym about Per's incident and reports it to the police, which makes Tareq officially wanted by the authorities. Shadi finally receives a negative answer from Tareq, but he insists that his brother turns himself in since he is innocent. At the police station they find out that the real culprits -- a gang of robbers -- have been arrested, with Per's cell phone and wallet found on them. In the meantime, Per's friend had gathered a group of hoodlums and decided to teach Shadi a lesson. Ignorant of the latest developments of the case, they beat Shadi up.

The film's position is clearly opposed to racism and discrimination against Arab Muslims who are represented in the film through the family of Palestinian refugees who lost their homeland, but still retain their human qualities -- neither devils nor angels but people who strive to live honorably. They are poor, their houses and clothes are modest but tidy, and they have their values that are rooted in their culture. The Palestinian mother could be a mother in any place and time, while Arab Muslim girls seem like any others in Arab societies -- some are veiled, others are not.

The mother is against her sons having relationships with Danish girls and introduces her eldest boy Tareq to an Arab girl, hoping they get married. In turn Shadi avoids introducing Mie to his mother when they run into each other by chance. Similarly, Mie's grandmother rejects her involvement with an Arab Muslim. Yet on the other hand Mie's mother does not object to Mie's relationship with Shadi, and she defends it in her conversations with the grandmother. The grandmother and Per's friends, however, are not presented in a flat stereotype for the racist in Western societies. Like all natives of any place they consider immigrants as outsiders, particularly those who do not assimilate into their country's society. Unlike Shakespeare's Capulets and Montagues, both families are also plagued by poverty and live on the margins of society, trying to come to terms with the contradictions pervading the world in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001.

The film's positive end shows both Shadi and Per recovered, which optimistically assumes that humanity will get out of the dark ages once more. The film has two ends: one dramatic and the other intellectual, reinforced by Olsen's change of style at the finale.

Even though the film was produced before the caricature controversy, its inclusion was a correct move from the Berlin festival's administration under its president Dieter Kossilick, which favours cultural diversity and dialogue between civilisations.

1:1 represents the Danish people who like all people of the world love peace and seek to communicate with each other. With this film and the popular demonstrations against the caricature, the Danes extend their hands to Arabs and Muslims. Why should we turn them away simply because one imbecile drew a caricature and another published it? The uniqueness of Muslim culture is that it is based on the notion that God created different people and nations for them to know each other. The uniqueness of Muslim culture is that it rejects collective punishment in all shapes and forms. Each individual is responsible for his actions, says the Qur'an, so why should the Danish people be punished because of the folly of a caricaturist and editor? Do we accept the punishment of the Egyptian people because a mad preacher screams that the Jews are the grandsons of monkeys and pigs and that Christians are heathens and all such spiteful preaching that contradicts with the Qur'anic values of tolerance and peaceful coexistence?

We have the right to express our dissent peacefully but not to burn flags and sabotage embassies as if Muslims are at war with all other people.

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