Dir. Michel Khleifi (2009, Palestine, 85 mins.)
Contradiction and ambiguity are at the heart of Zindeeq. The term “zindeeq” can, apparently, mean both ‘atheist’ and ‘freethinker.’ However, M (Mohammad Bakri), the atheist filmmaker and character at the heart of Zindeeq, finds himself lost in a long dark night of the soul in the middle of Nazareth; perhaps unsurprisingly, his night is filled with biblical metaphors and allusion. M is not just an atheist on a spiritual journey; he is a man who disdains his family’s squabbles but is drawn into them, a man questioning his parent’s generation but anxious about his own, and a Palestinian exile who has returned to Palestine.
This film walks a very delicate line – the narrative oscillates between particular appeal and universal appeal. On the one hand, the biblical allusions and dense, layered symbolism can be quite challenging. Like The Time That Remains, Zindeeq refuses to spoon-feed information to the audience and refuses to explain itself – and frankly, it wouldn’t work any other way. Allusion and symbolism are not worthwhile – they lose their power – if they are explained. Furthermore, the challenges that these literary devices offer the audience mirror the challenges experienced by M; director Michel Khleifi has put us in the same boat.
On the other hand, the alienation M experiences (and the skill with which Mohammad Bakri conveys this alienation) is more universally appealing than the more arcane and challenging literary devices the film repeatedly employs. To be sure, the complete alienation M experiences (from his family, his lover, his community) is hardly common, but the audience can identify with at least a few facets of M’s experience.
There tends to be an expectation of Palestinian film to grapple with Israel: with the military conflict, with the separation wall, with the status quo. However, this is not the case with Zindeeq, a film more concerned with how the Palestinian community relates to itself. It is not always an appealing portrait, but the audience would not trust Zindeeq otherwise. Zindeeq is not for everyone; it demands much more from its audience than the typical film, but it rewards the willing viewer.