A conversation with photographer Oscar B. Castillo about photographing subjects on France’s margins. Continue Reading →
Journalist Karim Baouz on the idea of France and the difficult realities of being French and Muslim. Continue Reading →
Anthropologist Elayne Oliphant on photographer Oscar B. Castillo‘s depictions of secular and religious space in Paris.
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Professors and reporters need to find new ways to work together to shape public discourse on religion argues Elayne Oliphant. Continue Reading →
Becky Garrison reports on events in Germany commemorating the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. Continue Reading →
A round-up of the week’s religion news. Continue Reading →
By Abhimanyu Das
Namir Abdel Messeeh’s highly entertaining documentary The Virgin, the Copts and Me is a curious beast, a bit like one of those clever New Yorker articles that start off making you think it’ll be about Batman but end up being about the tax obligations of the 1%. Only, in this case, it’s not entirely clear whether the thematic sleight-of-hand was artistic choice or just lucky accident. Either way, this narrative slipperiness is both what’s interesting and troublesome about this frustrating picture, easy to like but difficult to recommend.
The saga begins with the French-Egyptian filmmaker (the family emigrated to France in 1973), sitting down with his family to watch a fuzzy videotape of an alleged sighting of the Virgin Mary. Further discussion reveals that this is one of a spate of such sightings, experienced mostly by the oft-persecuted Christian Coptic community in Egypt. Interestingly, a few Muslims had claimed to experience these holy visions as well. This curious cultural hook is all Messeeh – a secular skeptic – needs to decide on making a documentary about the phenomenon.
The film’s tendency toward distracting self-referentialism is already front-and-center. Messeeh spends a chunk of time ‘documenting’ his attempts to find a financier and win his family over to the project’s cause. All this is done with great comic flair. We get an early introduction to the most memorable character in the film – his domineering mother Siham who continually expresses doubts about her son’s ability to pull this off. Unfortunately, much of this feels staged. It seems unlikely that Messeeh happened to have an HD camera running at a family gathering during which he is hit by a perfectly blocked creative epiphany. The film is full of what look to be staged scenes, contrived narrative setups and pre-arranged dialogue, raising the question (unintentionally, in my view) of whether this is a documentary at all. Messeeh is in every scene, an unapologetic puppet-master. At every turn, the developments feel arranged as opposed to observed. Continue Reading →