Directed by Youssef Chahine | Egypt/France | 135 mins.
Legendary Egyptian director Youssef Chahine was born in Alexandria between the two World Wars. Though he studied briefly in California as a young man, he remained a secular humanist artist very much of his time and place. That being said, viewers of the opulent large-scale spectacle that is 1997’s Destiny may well be reminded of the historical pageants of D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille at the dawn of narrative cinema proper. Set in the Spanish province of Andalusia but photographed in Lebanon and Syria, Destiny tells a story of political intrigue and sectarian tensions revolving around 12th century Arab Andalusian philosopher Averröes, whose teachings influenced developments in both Christianity and Islam. Featuring musical numbers throughout, Chahine’s opus maintains at all times a rhapsodic and declamatory mode of address. Destiny pits rationalism against fundamentalism, advocating for personal liberties and a healthy public discourse informed by open debate. This is inclusive, popular art at its most fundamentally radical. Chahine’s call for reason would seem only to grow more timely.
- Written by Jason Wierzba