Back in September, I attended the first British screening of Salvation Army (2013), the début film of Moroccan author (and now filmmaker) Abdellah Taïa, screened exclusively as part of Safar: The Festival of Popular Arab Cinema at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in London. This was an exciting first-time experience on many counts: this was the first public screening of Taïa’s film, which is his first film, based on the eponymous novel; Taïa also happens to be the first Moroccan writer to ‘come out of the closet’ publicly. His sensitive and teasing work was the catalyst of my current study, the trigger of my thoughts about the need for a comprehensive study of queer Muslims in fiction and film.
When I arrived at the ICA, I was instantaneously enveloped in the cultured and radical mood of the place by the rows and rows of critical theory bookshelves contained in its main hall. I hadn’t visited the ICA for a long time, and making this express visit to see Salvation Army on the big screen made me all the more aware of the need of such spaces as the ICA and Safar, which is affiliated to the British Arab Centre, to promote culture not widely available on the mainstream. While I waited for the film to start, I dabbed into the Foucaults and Deleuzes teeming the shelves. I don’t know if there was a mood of expectation in the air or if I brought it with me, but I was certainly excited to be able to see a film I’d been waiting for since I first found out of its production, and which I feared wouldn’t be given a commercial release in the UK.
The film is suffused in the pathos and subtlety of Taïa’s literary work, and I found it a potentially controversial but ultimately uncomplicated depiction of complex issues, such as Muslim homosexuality, pederasty and incestual desires. After seeing the film (while I made interminable notes in the dark), I put together a review of it (which you can access if you hover on the link), and which was subsequently published in the Arab British Centre website.