I guess observant wouldn’t be the right word to describe Ahmed Khawaja’s newest film. We’ve seen him practicing his religion before, rituals with the flamboyant quality of performance. But here we get him in context, hunkered down in his family home in Abu Dhabi, doing his best to go through the motions...
It’s a nice place, if a little antiseptic, captured from behind closed doors or looking out into the dark hallways between them. The low angles and layered interiority of these shots at first convinced me something Japanese was at play, but instead maybe this is just how the world looks at odd hours during a fast. There’s an unusual amount of handheld shots of the floor, of scuttling around corners, of peering out the window at the same daily scene.
The only sense we get that a family lives here is the familiar way they accost each other. Otherwise, it’s a home peopled by strangers.
Khawaja’s father, defined by absence, emerges intermittently as a kind of town crier, marking time according to prayer, bearing juice. We peek out the window with the skittish curiosity of a shut-in as he climbs into his expensive car again and again, on his solitary way to prayer.
Khawaja’s brother is usually only the silence at the other end of an address: “Mohammad! Mohammad?” to no avail.
His mother, a clear successor to former filmmaking partner Andre Puca, seems the only easy prey—the only family member activated by this mediation, the only one interested enough to question his behavior. She gives him notes even. Gives him work!
Khawaja films her singing old Bollywood songs, videos of which she watches over and over, and when he catches her crying at one of them, he slinks back up the stairs to his room, for the first time chastened, contrite. I wonder if he is startled by the analogue. Here, so close, a stranger like himself, another dreamer singing karaoke to old movies.
At least she is performing devotionals he can stomach. Ramadan is eating away at his insides. “This place is for the nut-jobs, i.e. those who are at peace with God...” Frustrated after just a few days, he abandons the film he’s been making and embarks on the film we’re watching, signalling departure with his own ritual of purity, dancing nude to Pino Donaggio’s Body Double score. Who will say he is not the happy genius of this household?
Thank you for watching. The film is now longer available. Check out Ahmed's previous 3 films in our series, available indefinitely.