This late-career work is one of Chahine’s better efforts—a largely engaging 12th-century epic about the dangers of religious extremism and the power that a humanist philosophy gives to its people.
Dir. Youssef Chahine
1997 | Egypt/France | Drama/History | 136 mins | 1.85:1 | Arabic
PG13 (Netflix rating) for some mature themes
Cast: Nour El-Sherif, Mahmoud Hemida, Khaled Nabawy, Seif Abdelrahman, Safia El Emari
Plot: In medieval Spain, under Arab rule, a secular and multicultural society flourished. There, the liberal philosopher Averroes is faced with the fanatical ideas of a fundamentalist Islamic sect.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Source: Front Row Filmed Entertainment
Subject Matter: Moderate – Philosophy; Humanism; Religious Extremism
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
A work from his late-career phase, Destiny is one of Youssef Chahine’s better efforts, and an attempt to go deeper in history—in this case the 12th century—to tell an ancient story that draws parallels to the sociopolitical context of the 1990s when it was made.
This was a time of increased religious fundamentalism amid the rise of Islamic extremist ideology. Seeing it today, Destiny is more relevant than ever before.
In typical Chahine style that can be flamboyantly theatrical at times, Destiny, however, has a different flavour to some of his earlier works.
In this case, Spanish influences are abundant, not just in the flamenco-tinged song-and-dance sequences (much better accomplished than in works like the disappointing The Return of the Prodigal Son (1976)), but in the architecture of castles and towns.
“Ideas have wings. No one can stop their flight.”
It is not a stretch to say that Destiny is one of Chahine’s best-looking films, and he knows it by giving us a number of breathtaking wide shots. The setting is Andalusia (the film was, however, shot in France) as a caliph rules the territory with an iron fist.
He fails to see mounting threats around him despite warnings by his advisors, chief of which is the growing influence of an Islamic sect threatening to disrupt the status quo; the other, featured significantly as a major plotline, is the famous humanist philosopher Averroes whom the caliph is made to be intolerant of.
Destiny is compelling for most parts, and what it leaves us with is the idea that no matter how oppressive an environment is, if you have humanistic values, you will live long in the hearts of the people that you encounter.