February 22, 2010

Book of Law, narrative of an inherent conflict

Book of Law, the movie

Book of Law is the latest movie of Maziar Miri, the young, promising Iranian director. The story begins with an Iranian scholar, Rahman Tavana, traveling with his colleagues to Lebanon to meet a group of representatives of Lebanese NGOs. There he meets a young, Christian interpreter, Juliet, who also owns a café in Beirut. He falls for her. In his next trip to Lebanon, he finds out that Juliet converted to Islam. In his third trip, he marries Juliet and they together come to Iran to live with Rahman’s family.

Almost all members of Rahman’s family (save a sister of Rahman, Kobra, who is the second good-guy of the movie next to Juliet) as well as the people around the neighborhood play an important role in the movie. They constitute a traditional Muslim society which is, in some respects, far away from original Islamic norms. The newly converted Juliet, who chose the name Amena, tries to educate them, challenging the traditional Muslim community to put aside what she finds non-Islamic. The salesman who sells expired dairies, the Muslim women who talk behind others’ backs, etc. do not hesitate a second to accuse Juliet of being naïve and unaware of ‘True Islam.’ Rahman’s family even use Juliet’s personal album including her old, not-properly-dressed photos to prove that they are better Muslims for their hair and body was never seen by a stranger. Indeed, they can’t bear numerous, harsh criticisms she makes based on the Book of Law, i.e. the Quran. Due to its long-standing experience of Islam, the traditional Muslim society believes in its authenticity to prescribe Islamic version of things. This is the most important theme of the movie.

The story of Book of Law indeed presents a cliché of contemporary art forms dealing with self-diagnosis of Muslim society. A non-Muslim converts to Islam only to find out that the Muslim society is not that Islamic at all.

The movie is idealist in the sense that it repeats an old theme, that ‘the original Islam is all good.’ And the storyteller gets pragmatist in one of the last scenes, when a Lebanese taxi driver preaches secular ethics according to which being good doesn’t have anything to do with the religion one chooses to follow. (No wonder that these statements were not translated in subtitles, probably a consequence of editorial pressures.) And maybe this idealism-pragmatism conflict is another indication of today Iran’s tough situation, symbolizing a transient nation which is still hesitant to give up on its traditional values despite all the setbacks such values brought about, the nation which still hopes to cure all the problems through radical reforms, getting back to True Islam.

Juliet can not tolerate all the inhospitality she faces in the family, in the society. In a so-called Muslim nation, she can’t adhere to original values of the Book of Law. She returns to Lebanon just to find Rahman getting there to find her. They are still in love with each other.

The last scene of the movie pictures an airplane taking off, carrying both Rahman and Juliet on board. But going where?

To Iran? Or to a dreamland in which you can be a true Muslim and enjoy all the benefits of original Islam, even if this dreamland happens to be a non-Muslim country? Rather a tough question, as tough as the choice some devout Muslims have to make.


meghdad said...

Always, there is a big non answered question in my mind which is, why the majority of the Muslims societies are faced with these same problems among themselves. However we have such nice rules to prevent these problems to take part in our lives!. It is not only for instance in Middle East! How about Africa?! Last year I have been in china during the Ramadan, one taxi driver who was Muslim deceived me and took me triple times much money!!

Bluebirdy said...
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