“Sahara” is the main theme of this year’s Culturescapes festival in Basel. A series of films by Tunisian filmmaker Nacer Khemir was offered at the local cinema, Stadtkino. I saw Bab’Aziz (2005) as a poem as much as a film. Gentle, unprovocative, deeply sensorial, it’s the story of the present-day journey of an old dervish, Bab’Aziz, and his granddaughter, told through a series of vignettes—many stories in one story, the stories of others interweaving with fairy tale scenes. It is wonderful to experience this art of storytelling, both in the film and in the stories told by the dervishes. More generally, the filmmaker speaks of the deep layers of Islam, represented in the ancient dervish with his enlightened wisdom, and, simply, what a joy it is to “be with God.” With dance, stories, and recitations, with verse and song, with hands open towards above and towards below, the film envelops and reminds us that to be with God has always, for everyone, meant to be with oneself and not with oneself. After the film, I was deeply grateful to Khemir. Something as everyday as a visit to the cinema was able to re-root me in the mystical primal ground, and his film possessed the same art that the dervishes in the film embodied: to discover God through poetry and, thereby, to discover poetry.

Translation Joshua Kelberman
Image Film still from Bab’Aziz (2005) by Nacer Khemir

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