Dir. Nasri Hajjaj (2009, Palestine, 65 mins.)
Mahmoud Darwish was one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. He is regarded as the Palestinian national poet. His poems – set to songs – have become Arab anthems. He is included in the appendix of literary critic Harold Bloom’s iconic book The Western Canon. Despite Darwish’s bona fides, As the Poet Said is curiously unmoving.
Poet is intended as both a tribute and an epitaph to Darwish, and is composed of poems recited over images. Sometimes the poems are recited by famous literary figures, such as Wole Soyinka, Michael Palmer, and José Saramago, but more often it is an unseen narrator. Sometimes the images are of places significant to Mahmoud Darwish, but more often the images are meant to be symbolic or to compliment the poem being read. Improvised piano music plays when the poems are not being read. This all lasts for over an hour.
The central problem in this film is that not much of what’s happening really compliments or enhances the poetry. Given that this is some of the world’s best poetry, an image that compliments it should be remarkable and beautiful. However, the cinematography in this film is awful. Images of Dawish’s picture floating in churning water, a spotlight but empty speaker’s podium, and a fog-filled theatre not only do nothing to enhance the poems, they are limp and pretentious. The music (whilst being well-played) is also badly used, starting immediately after poems are concluded. The effect is heavy and oppressive. And whilst watching a notable literary figure read a poem is interesting (actually, hearing anyone read a poem can be interesting), watching it over and over gets painful.
Die-hard fans of Mahmoud Darwish might – just might – find this film interesting. Everyone else will find it dull and tedious. The poetry of Mahmoud Darwish can already be enjoyed as poems – why should they be a film too?