Friday, August 10, 2007


While looking through next week’s TV Week I noticed that SBS will be screening a film I’ve just seen at the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF). My first thought on seeing the listing for Takva: A Man’s Fear of God was, ‘Oh, I could have used my ticket to see another film.’ And just now I’ve had a brief recollection of how I had to pay an extra $6 to see Takva because there was a mix up in one of the universities’ timetables and I had to exchange my ticket for the first screening, instead of the second, so I could meet my teaching responsibilities.

In that light, the prompt appearance of Takva on SBS is a bit annoying, but in another, if the three people in Australia who read this blog are interested in the film, and have decent SBS reception, the opportunity to see it for themselves won’t be too delayed.

At BIFF Takva was one of several films that formed a focus on Rumi, the 13th century ‘mystic and poet’, whose work ‘is one of the most important sources of inspiration for theology, poetry and philosophy in the Islamic world’ (Official Programme 2007, 8) . I was attracted to this film, in particular, because it was about the Dervish order. Here I anticipated seeing the mesmerising dance of the Whirling Dervishes. Further, the brief synopsis in the BIFF Programme described the central character, Muharrem, a man who led an ascetic life, and there’s something that I find intriguing about that kind of existence.

While the order of Dervishes portrayed was not of the Whirling variety (or at least I didn't see the iconic dance), the centrality of poetry, music and movement to this order of Dervishes’ worship was evident. Extended sequences depicted the order immersed in prayer. They were seated, but they oscillated in their meditation, synchronised with one another and the sounds of their chanting.

Muharrem is invited to join the Dervish order as a lay member. He is recruited from his job working for a sack retailer by a local religious leader. His role is explained to him as one where he will concern himself with the worldly affairs of the order. In effect he is to collect the rent on the various residential and commercial properties that the Dervishes own, and oversee the maintenance and accounting associated with those business interests.

Before moving into the order’s premises, Muharrem has lead a simple life. He submits himself to the orders of his somewhat self-satisfied boss, without complaint. He lives in a small, worn apartment, and heats his plain dinner for one on a gas burner. He wears clean but shabby clothes and a knitted hat. He is devout. The invitation to serve the Dervish order is an honour for Muharreme. He is frightened that he won’t fulfil the faith the order has placed in him, but to decline would be akin to an insult.

From the moment Muharrem accepts the position his life is altered. His boss begins to defer to him, if somewhat insincerely. The order gifts him with a range of luxury items, including a brand new car and wardrobe, accoutrements, they explain, that are necessary for his work, which enables the order to continue its operations, such as the education of the poor.

It is perhaps not surprising that a man as devout as Muharrem begins to struggle with his new found power and wealth. Ironically, perhaps, it is the religious members of the order who prove to be far more prosaic about ‘worldy affairs’, while Muharrem is shocked by tenants who drink alcohol and wants to extend charity to the poor families from whom he collects.

In this age, where many representations of the Islamic faith, in Australia and other Western countries, are routinely imbued with the fear of terrorist acts, it is an important role that film festivals (and SBS) play in bringing to our attention the lives of ordinary Muslims as they go about their every day lives. Takva: A Man’s Fear of God is a film that effectively portrays one man’s efforts to live a life according to the principles of his faith; that the institution of his faith presents the greatest test of those principles is the paradox that makes Muharrem’s story so compelling.

See Sarsaparilla for a look at another BIFF screening.


Shado said...

Sounds like a really interesting film. I was also interested by your twitter comment that you had just seen The Saddest Music in the World. I watched most of this one night on SBS in a very poor reception area - but through the snowy reception I was absolutely intrigued by this amazing film.

Speaking of amazing films. I am minding a house with a large home theatre and took the opportunity to rewatch The Deer Hunter last night. I've always wanted to see it on a big screen.

Kirsty said...

I am forced to admit I've never seen The Deer Hunter. It's shameful, I know. It's not been long since I could also say that about The Blues Brothers. I can't say I know how such iconic films managed to pass me by. Or is that the other way around?

I loved The Saddest Music in the World. At BIFF this year, they didn't have a silent film with an organ player the way they normally do, but I thought that Brand Upon the Brain! more than made up for that absence, since Maddin draws so much on the visual aesthetic of the silent film. And the music was also very 'silent' era. Lots of crescendos to underscore the drama.

Shado said...

Being a dyed in the wool card carrying member of the Walken fan club - right down to having my own website:, I am obliged to have seen The Deer Hunter! Quite a few other iconic films -eg The Clockwork Orange I haven't seen.

The Blues Brothers I saw the first week of its release in Paris and then went right back and saw it again 2 days later - I loved it!

Blowup happened to be on foxtel the other night and I watched it again - it's been some years since I've seen it. What a 60s blast from the past that is!

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