al Massir (Le Destin;Destiny) (1997)

 

 

 

Director:     Youssef Chahine

Starring:      Nour El-Sherif (Averroes), Laila Eloui (Manuella), Mahmoud Hemida (Al Mansour, The Caliph), Safia El Emari (Averroes' Wife), Mohamed Mounir (The Bard), Khaled El Nabaoui (Nasser, The Crown Prince), Seif El Dine (The Caliph's Brother), Abdalla Mahmoud (Borhan), Ahmed Fouad Selim (Cheikh Riad), Magdi Idris (Emir of the Sect), Ahmed Moukhtar (Bard), Sherifa Maher (Manuella's Mother), Rayek Azzab (El Razi), Hassan El Adl (Gaafar), Hani Salama (Abdalla).

Language:    French, Arabic.

 the story of 12th century Islamic philosopher Averroes in the Spanish province of Andalusia

 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Languedoc (central part of southern France), 12th century.  A man is being dragged through the streets behind a horse.  He is then tied to a stake to be burned..  He sees his son Joseph and his wife and shouts for Joseph to take his mother out of here.  A man steps out to read the sentence:  "By order of the Holy Church of Languedoc, the tribunal of the Inquisition, sentences the heretic Gerard Breuil to be burned at the stake, along with all his writings, for straying from the way of Our Lord and translating the work of the heretic Averroes."  The fire is lit.  Now mother and son rush away from the scene.

Joseph and another fellow help walk the mother back to their crude home of sticks and she collapses just after crossing the stream by the home.  The other man tells Joseph that his mother has died and that he will take care of everything for Joseph. 

Andalusia (central and southwest part of southern France), 12th century.  The people shout:  "Long live Caliph Mansur!"  A man in the crowd shouts:  "Long live the victor of Alarcos!"  In the crowd Joseph asks a man where can he find Averroes, the High Judge?  The man says that Averroes is his teacher and he will take Joseph to meet him.

Joseph is eating dinner with Averroes and his pupils.  One of these pupils is the son of the caliph, Abdallah, but he soon leaves the table to go dancing. 

The caliph's physician Averroes comes to see the caliph, who says he can't sleep due to worrying about his two sons, Nasser and Abdallah, who are no more than failures.  Nassser just cares about horses and women and there's simply no hope for Abdallah.  He only lives for his dancing. 

But Abdallah is concerned with women too.  He is having a secret relationship with a woman.  The woman Sarah, who describes herself as a poor gypsy girl, is worried about the relationship saying that she has to hide the truth from her sister Manuela.  And she wishes to remain chaste. 

At a tavern the man Benhar shouts "Long live the victor of Alarcos!" and he and his friends stare at Abdallah, one of the sons of the caliph.  Abdallah drinks until he is drunk.  Benhar speaks with Abdallah and fills him with words of great praise.  He says he and the men with him would love to partake of his knowledge and asks Abdallah to spend the night with them. But Abdallah has some dancing to do.  With a Spanish woman named Manuela he dances in flamenco style.  After the dancing is over Benhar asks Abdallah to go with them and he consents. 

Benhar and Abdallah bathe in a Turkish bath facility.  They then participate in a religious ceremony in which dancing is involved.  In the morning they attend the "class" given by the caliph's physician, Averroes.  Benhar makes a complaint against al-Mansur which the teacher answers. 

A man says to a group of men led by Sheik Riad that Averroes outsmarted Behan.  The men say that they must silence Averroes.  Perhaps they should ask the caliph to silence Averroes.

A friend of Averroes named Marwan tells him that the men that leave the mosque when he is talking are part of some planned demonstration.  He says he will write a song in response, but Averroes tells him to be careful or it could cost him his life.  Late at night the man sings his song and he is jumped by Benhar and his men who beat him and then stab him in the side of the neck.  The caliph's other son, Nasser, rides his horse at the men and they disperse.  The wounded man is taken to the physician Averroes.  He saves Marwan's life. 

Marwan's wife comes rushing up screaming for Marwan.  She rushes into the house of Averroes and throws Joseph out of the room where her husband is resting. 

The caliph calls in Averroes, the governor of Cordoba and Crown Prince Nasser and tells them that the security of the Almohad Dynasty has never been as threatened as it is today and he wants to know what the men are doing about it.  Averroes says people are exploiting religion because the caliph lets them.  The caliph responds that he is concerned only about one man.  And he wants this assailant captured.  Averroes says that these barbarians he is talking about are threatening the Almohad culture.  He pleads that the caliph should have the assailant captured, but more importantly, he should have the man questioned so that they may be able to find out what's ailing the country.  He adds that there is a conspiracy behind the assault.

The assailant is captured.  Nasser comes in and slaps the face of the already bloodied captive.  Averroes tends to Benhar's wounds, while talking with him.  The philosopher wants to know who told the assailant that Marwan was an enemy to God.  The guy just keeps repeating the same lines over and over again.

Averroes finds out that the assailant has a brother who left a cult they both were a part of and the assailant tried to kill his brother.  Averroes now wants to meet with the brother.  The brother says the movement people fill the initiates with all kinds of praise and flattery.  Once they have the trust of the initiates, they then begin to wear the new fellows down.  They are taken out into the desert where they must walk and pray endlessly in the hot sun.  This weakens the men both mentally and physically.  And it is this way that the initiates become slaves to the will of the Emir.  The initiates are told to go out among the people and tell them that people have become impious and they must turn back to the real truth.  The brother remembers when Benhar told him:  "Every throat I cut takes me one step closer to Paradise."

Averroes holds court for the assailants.  His judgment is that, because the young men were led astray by others, he will sentence the accused to five years in prison.  Marwian's wife is very happy about the judgments, but the caliph is not.  He tells Averroes that he defied his caliph by handing out such light sentences.  The caliph adds that the whole council is angry about his light sentences.  Averroes gets disgusted and leaves.

Later Averroes visits the jail where the three men sentenced to five years have been hanged and still dangle from the rafters.  Averroes says that they must find the brother Saad and hide him or else he probably will face the same fate. 

Sheik Raid is the one behind the plot and the cult.  His right hand man, the Emir, who arranged the attack on Marwan, says that he would like to become a judge again.  Averroes had caught him accepting bribes and removed him from his office. Sheik Raid is willing even to give the man Averroes's position. 

Averroes writes out a letter of resignation.  He is incensed that the caliph ignores what is really going on in Andalusia and he does not want to contribute to a system that is corrupt.  Nasser and a friend tell him the good things that the caliph has done for Averroes personally.  He built him a library and encouraged him to write commentaries on the Greek philosopher Aristotle.  So Averroes tears up his resignation letter.  Nasser tells him to forget about the caliph and concentrate on this Sheik Riad. 

Abdallah tells Marwan, who is still healing, to get up and pray to Allah.  For if he is to die, he should do it in a state of pureness.  Marwan's wife Manuela gets after Abdallah for asking her husband to get up.  Abdalla says thank goodness there are others who know what is wrong.  The wife asks who are these geniuses and what do they say?  Abdallah says they say the real culprit is in the palace.  Manuela asks Abdallah if he has gone crazy?  Abdallah leaves.  Manuela asks what's gotten into that man?  Sarah, her sister, says this happened because he is running away from her due to the fact that she is carrying Abdallah's baby.  Manuela gets upset about this because she says that if the caliph knows that Abdallah has a gypsy heir, he will surely cut the baby's throat.  Her brother-in-law says that she should just forget Abdallah.  But that is not easy for her to do. 

Joseph seeks a hiding place for the complete works of Averroes.  He puts the books into a big barrel of flour down in the cellar of Averroes's home.  At dinner at the house, Marwan comes over to greet the men and women.  He goes around the room thanking people for saving his life.  All of a sudden they realize that the home library is on fire.  Averroes is devastated by the damage caused by the fire (that is put out by the rain).   His happiness is restored when Joseph shows him that his books are all safe and sound. 

Averroes believes that the fire was the work of Shiek Riad.  He tells Nasser that the sheik wants all the power.  Later Nasser tells his father about this, but the caliph won't listen.  He tells Nasser that the council wants to burn all of Averroes's books and that Riad opposes this fatwa. 

Averroes reminds Nasser that it was Sheik Riad himself who introduced the idea of the fatwa.  Abdallah says that the life of Averroes is at stake here.  Averroes tells him that we all must die someday.  Marwan, Joseph and others meet together to say that with 100 students they could make two copies of the works of Averroes.  And Joseph says that he will take one set of copies to France.  The copying project starts.  They keep the project secret. 

Joseph has come to love Salma, the daughter of Avorres, but she says she loves Nasser.  Nasser sees Joseph leave for Languedoc. 

Manuela tells Averroes that many people think that Abdallah has joined the cult of the emir. Abdallah always comes back from the desert covered in sand. 

Averroes now tries to get hold of Abdallah and get him away from the cult.  He and Marwan set up a telescope so they can spy on the initiates.  Averroes leaves and it's Manuela that spots Abdallah among the initiates.  She tells Marwan and he rides off to get Abdallah.  He rides up and captures the leader of the cult.  He holds a knife to the man's throat.  Marwan orders that Abdallah be placed on his horse and then demands that his hands be tied.  Then Marwan tells the leader to stand up.  He slaps the leader down, jumps on the horse behind Abdallah and rides off. 

Joseph transfers from his burro to a small boat similar to a canoe and paddles his way down stream.  He is even successful in paddling over two waterfalls. But then he grabs onto a low hanging tree branch and holds on tight as the boat flows downstream.  But then, Joseph loses his grip and he and the books fall into the water.  He loses most of the books.  Now Joseph starts walking. 

The books float downstream where they are picked up by soldiers. 

A Spaniard tells an aide to Sheik Riad that they are keeping their word to Riad.  They will attack Cordoba in two weeks.  They don't expect to meet any resistance.  The idea is that the big battle will eliminate Mansur.  The aide is there when the soldiers deliver four wet books to their leader.

Nasser arrives to speak with the now captive Abdallah in Manuela's home.  He asks his brother if he wants to kill him and their father?  Abdallah says they will be punished in this world and chastised in the next.  Nasser slaps Abdallah hard.  Everyone rushes in to make sure Nasser doesn't hit Abdallah again.  Manuela tells Crown Prince Nasser to get out of her house.  He complies. 

The caliph is overseeing the building of a large fleet to oppose the Christians. 

Sarah tries to feed Abdallah, but he refuses to eat.  He now is extremely self-righteous.  Sarah feels very down, so her brother-in-law and sister start singing and dancing.  She says only dancing can bring Abdallah back to them.  But when they check on Abdallah he denounces them saying:  "Soon enough, you'll be dancing in hell." 

The leader of the cult and his followers come into town.  They confront Marwan and when he won't obey the cult leader, Benhar throws a spear into Marwan's back.  Benhar then goes over and pulls the spear out of Marwan.  Manuela and Sarah and their friends rush over to see what has happened to Marwan.  The leader tells Manuela that this is what will happen to all infidels and that soon they will be rid of Mansur.  The cult leader says then he will be the leader of the people and they shall have to follow the rules of the great prophet. 

Abdallah, who freed himself from the ropes that bound him, comes over to see the dying Marwan.  Marwan dies and Manuela blames Abdallah.  She slaps his face several times while shouting:  "Murderer!"  She then cries, grabs Abdullah in a bear hug and squeezes him tight. 

Abdallah now comes to Averroes to tell him that he, Abdallah, is the one to blame for Marwan's death. Averroes tells the young man that Marwan chose to die in order to save Abdallah.  He goes on to say that Marwan was a father to Abdallah and taught him to enjoy life.  Abdallah says his biological father never cared for him.  Averroes tells him he must stop pitying himself.  He even tries to shake the devil out of Abdallah.  Abdallah falls unconscious. 

Nasser comes to console Manuela over the death of her husband, but receives a cold reception. Abdallah and Sarah come into the room.  Nasser asks Manuela how can she allow Abdallah into her house?  Manuela says that Marwan always treated Nasser's brother as his own son.  She pleads now with Nasser for a litttle forgiveness.  Nasser just turns his back to the family.  Abdallah goes to him and stands before him.  Nasser opens his arms to his brother and Abdallah goes to him. 

Joseph continues on his journey.  He gets through finally, but with only one book.  And the waters of the river smeared all the writing so that the manuscript is unreadable.  Joseph decides to go back. 

Averroes appears before the caliph.  Averroes steps down from his position with the caliph and the caliph now says that as a commoner Averroes will be subject to the whims of the caliph.  The philosopher tells the caliph that it is Riad who rules the streets.  The caliph just says that Averroes doesn't have to worry about Riad, because he as the ruler is much more intelligent that Riad. 

Nasser tells his girlfriend that he has decided to go to Egypt to deliver the philosopher's books to safety.  And he tells her that he loves her and wants to marry her.  She responds that by the time Nasser returns from Egypt, her trousseau will be ready.  They kiss.

Salma and Nasser now tells her father about their plans.  Averroes objects to their plans, but mother comes to the defense of the young couple.  A friend of Averroes also sides with the couple.  Averroes gives his consent.  Nasser sets off for Egypt.

The caliph finally awakens to the military threat posed by Riad, whose forces are approaching Guadalquivir.  He asks his generals:  "Where did we go wrong?"  One general says that after the Battle of Alarcos, they wasted the army on many small, futile engagements. 

The caliph tells his brother that this is all Averroes's fault because it was he who divided the country.   And the caliph thinks it very suspicious that the philosopher resigned his post just before the coming of the enemy.  The adviser defends Averroes.  This infuriates the caliph and he threatens to burn all of the philosopher's books and other writings.  And now the caliph asks Riad to mobilize the people to action. 

Riad gives a demagogic speech and blames the troubles on the work of the Christians.  After Riad stirs the fires of hate and prejudice, the crowd is very willing to listen and to follow the wishes of the caliph. 

By order of the caliph, Averroes is now forbidden to teach.  His books will be burned and he will be banished.  Averroes goes to see the caliph but Benhar and his men block the path of Averroes and even push him down the steps. 

Nasser is in Egypt.  The Egyptians agree to protect and safe the writings of Averroes.  Nasser is told that Averrores and his ideas have been banished.  Nasser comments that Riad has won.  He is urged to return to Andulasia to tell Averroes that his works are safe in Egypt. 

Averroes and his family are packing a wagon for their going into exile. 

Nasser sees Joseph returning to Andalusia.  He rides after Joseph.  Joseph runs into Averroes and tells him the bad news. 

Riad informs the emir that Nasser is back in Andalusia and he wants the man dead.  The cult leader goes to Nasser and tells him that the Spaniards want peace.  In return they want to see Andalusia cut down on the size of its army so that this will pacify the Spanish people.  The leader refers to Nasser as the caliph, saying that al-Mansur needs a long rest.  From his wagon, Averroes witnesses the triumph of Riad and the burning of his works.  Abdallah now goes to his father with a knife in his hand.  He comes up behind father and could have killed him, but he says the cult only messed with his mind, not his heart.  Nasser arrives and informs his father that Riad has aligned himself with the Spaniards and they offered him the job of the caliph.  Now both Nasser and Abdallah say they are ready to fight. 

Al-Mansur calls Riad to him and tells him that he and his sect will be in the front lines when they attack the Spaniards.  Riad protests but the caliph is joined by his two sons in insisting that Riad is fit enough to lead the attack.  They know the enemy is near Jaen.  The caliph tells Riad to go and get his forces ready to fight.  After he is gone, fathers tells his sons that they will tell others that they will attack the Spanish at Jaen, but their real target is Alarcos.  Now Nasser tells dad that the works of Averroes are safe in Egypt.  Father is pleased with Nasser and tells him thank you. 

The army will be ready to leave in one hour.  Nasser has just enough time to go tell Averroes of the changed plans and the safety of his works in Egypt.  Abdallah rushes out to tell Manuela and Sarah the good news about the works of Averroes.  Manuela now breaks through the barriers holding the people back and she rushes over to Averroes.  She is joined by the public.  Nasser is there and he already told Averroes what has happened.  The philosopher is so happy that he thanks the book burning leader and the soldiers.  He finds one of his works in a basket.  He now tosses it over his back and into the fire with a big grin on his face.   

 

Good movie.  One big complaint.  The film doesn't really explain the influence of the writings of the philosopher Averroes on Almohad culture.  We can only tell that Averroes is a good and intelligent man because of the advise he gives or teaches to others.  The major story is of a planned coup d'etat against the caliph.  Averroes is definitely caught up in this struggle between the caliph and Sheik Riad.  The reasons are not given why the Muslims rejected the ideas of Aristotle, for whom Averroes was the greatest exponent. 

The film is to be praised because it does deal with the Muslim Berbers from northern Africa in Spain. The story is seen from their perspective, a perspective that is not usually seen or heard in world cinema. 

The film shows how ideas can survive no matter how hard tyrants try to squash them.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

The Almohad Dynasty was a Moroccan Berber-Muslim dynasty founded in c. 1120 that established a Berber state in the Atlas Mountains of north-western Africa. The Almohads defeated the ruling Almoravids and took power over all northern Africa as far as Libya, Al-Andalus and Moorish Iberia (modern Portugal and southern Spain).

1126  --  Averroes born in Córdoba, Spain to a family of legal scholars.

1146  --  establishment of the Almohad dynasty.

Ibn Tufail ("Abubacer" to the West), the philosophic vizier of Yusef al-Mansur, introduced Averroes to the court and to Avenzoar (Ibn Zuhr), the great Muslim physician.  Averroes became friends with both men.

1160  --  Averroes was made Qadi of Seville, serving in Seville, Córdoba and Morocco. 

He wrote commentaries on the Greek philosopher Aristotle and a medical encyclopedia.  His school of philosophy is known as Averroism.

His most important philosophical work was The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-tahafut).  In the work he defended Aristotelian philosophy against the claims of al-Ghazali that the philosophy was an offense to Islam. 

1184-1199  --  reign of al-Mansur of the Almohad Dynasty. 

1195 – the caliph’s title of "al-Mansur," "The Victorious," was earned by the defeat he inflicted on Alfonso VIII of Castile in the Battle of Alarcos.

end of the 1100s  --  a wave of fanaticism swept Andalusia.  In the aftermath, Averroes was banished to an isolated place near Córdoba, where he was closely monitored.

1198  --  death of Averroes in Morocco. 

Because of the censorship during the period, many of the philosopher's works were lost.  His surviving works are all in Latin translation.

1199  --  death of al-Mansu in Morocco. 

 

 

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