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The Sheik and I2012

  • 3.9
Commissioned by a Middle Eastern Biennial to make a film on the theme of "art as a subversive act," independent filmmaker Caveh Zahedi goes overboard. Told that he can do whatever he wants except make fun of the Sheik of Sharjah (who rules the country and finances the Biennial), Zahedi decides to do just that, turning his camera on the Biennial itself. But his court jester antics fail to amuse. Zahedi's film is banned for blasphemy and he is threatened with arrest and a fatwa.

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"Inviting criticism from all corners, Caveh Zahedi tests the limits on freedom of expression in the Middle East with incendiary and arguably irresponsible results..." - Peter Debruge, Variety


3 members like this review

A very interesting experiment exploring the limits of movie-making and intellectual freedom in Middle Eastern countries..these countries may have modern buildings and nice highways but they are far from accepting modern norms of critical expression. The director is clearly astonished that there limits on "free speech" in these countries. He is also a bit too cavalier about the dangers to which he exposes his interlocutors and helpers in Sharjah. If his lawyer did not extract the agreement from the authorities there, these people would have been in mortal danger. Of course, the limited distribution of the film helps insulate them from danger.

As a film, I found the Sheik and I to be interesting throughout, if a bit too self-indulgent. The best actor was the director's kid.

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top reviewer

Member Reviews (7)

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top reviewer

Endlessly annoying. Zahedi is, or portrays, a smug, superficial, clueless Westerner, secure in his assumptions, pestering his sponsors to no purpose. The little bits we see of the film he supposedly made are worthless capering. He even makes his own tedious, spoiled family into an unwelcome waste of screen time.

No doubt this is all some sort of meta joke, a satire on a satire. But there's nothing at the bottom; it's annoying all the way down. As it says on the label, "his court jester antics fail to amuse".

3 members like this review
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top reviewer

A very interesting experiment exploring the limits of movie-making and intellectual freedom in Middle Eastern countries..these countries may have modern buildings and nice highways but they are far from accepting modern norms of critical expression. The director is clearly astonished that there limits on "free speech" in these countries. He is also a bit too cavalier about the dangers to which he exposes his interlocutors and helpers in Sharjah. If his lawyer did not extract the agreement from the authorities there, these people would have been in mortal danger. Of course, the limited distribution of the film helps insulate them from danger.

As a film, I found the Sheik and I to be interesting throughout, if a bit too self-indulgent. The best actor was the director's kid.

3 members like this review
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top reviewer

3.8 stars. Amusing and, ultimately, informative. And I do not think it is offensive to Islam, at least not in its spirit. Maybe some very devout people would consider it blasphemous, but I don't believe that blasphemy should be a punishable offense. And it doesn't insult Mohammed, but it is a critical look at United Arab Emirates laws and how their society functions without the film being nasty or mean-spirited.

1 member likes this review
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top reviewer

Brilliant. Minds like Zahedi are active models for justifying censorship. The film itself bore no defect, nor the filmmaker. The trusted advisors, however, who granted carte blanche to an irreverent American filmmaker, a filmmaker who represented himself as knowing nothing of the culture, religious traditions, nor the boundaries that an average human being actually constructs for themselves in the UAE, is asked to create a film about art as subversion? The idea itself is parody. And Zahedi is a masterful troll. "Good job on the blood...I don't think you got any on you." Well done, Zahedi and all your players. A must watch.

1 member likes this review
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top reviewer

Here be spoilers.

In "The Captive Mind" Czeslaw Milosz explains the Arab world concept of "Ketman" roughly as the maintaining of a front to insure the protection of clandestine/covert religious/non-religious interests. Perhaps this can be identified with what in the film Caveh calls out as an Arab tendency towards "lying, or politeness, I guess". Could it also be the basis of Cavehspeak itself (see paragraph 3), which I've actually always previously misidentified by the Yiddish word "schtick"? Anyway, the prevalence of Ketman engenders an exquisite sensitivity among people in the Arab world which seems to consistently foil the sort of Borat business attempted here, so easily got away with in the US. The incredible thing is that these programmers seemed to have no idea what they were getting into.

Some shots might have benefited from a source of extra light, but the film is really well-winged and well put together. The animations are great. The most shocking image for me has to be the ones of the awful hotel room. I certainly would have thought the city/country would be as glitzy as Dubai. Are all the hotels really like that, as the native Sharjahn said? My favorite part of the movie is when Beckett and Caveh save the day in the "final version".

For me the two lowest points are when the guy playing the Sheik is told only that he's going to play "a Sheik". This later provides The Auteur with the oppty to nobly dig in his heels about keeping the actor in the film, when he wants out. (He'd signed a release.) Honestly, how difficult would it have been to reshoot that scene? The slender guy from the crew might have played the role, as not all Arabs are dark. Most disheartening was watching Caveh play this "ugly american" game of not understanding what's being said to him, not with the programmer, but consistently with his own son, which must be terribly frustrating for the kid.

Another highly amusing to watch movie in which Caveh inexorably pushes people around, with less success on a local level but with "happy endings" for Caveh, cast and crew - at least for now. His idea of "God" as I last remember hearing it - more or less identical to Schopenhauer's "Will" - has been supplanted by this "Cinema is my religion" thing - The Caveh Imperative. While I suppose this latter avatar is a bit on the sentimental side, I think maybe I dislike it less for that.

1 member likes this review
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top reviewer

Finally a good movie among so much trash in Fandor! Lately is being difficult something worth watching here. This is one of the few ones.

Trying to produce a creative film in a country with no freedom of expression, the results could have been more tragic to ALL THOSE who involved in the film. It is a sclerotic culture frozen in 7th century.

The producer who is Iranian by heritage but has lived and got educated in USA should have known the reality of challenging the status quo even with humor or satire, could kill you and yours. It is hard to believe that the end result was surprise to him!

But a must see for those who are challenged with travel or wide reading!