Bouhlal, Mohammed V and a Trip to the Vatican

There are many unanswered letters i have yet to read and i apologize since it has been a while. it’s been a while since I have done quite a number of things like speaking English intimately and it’s been an even longer while since seeing an english speaking film in the theater. (I have decided that French culture struggles with subtitles or with the sound of anything not french…even Americans read the subtitles without dubbing-over.)

This week was remarkable since I had the opportunity to watch three films that were left alone and thus still in English. It was an overload for me and i cried in two of them: Mary and the Secret Life of Words. Both transnational films between France and America // Spain and America.

Watching ‘Mary’ in an audience that is not familiar with her in the same way that an American audience or a Christian audience would be, placed my experience in a very different context…

…and it dawned on me that if something is not sacred it cannot be blasphemed.

Jesus and Mary are images of controversy within the film but not in the audience I was with because these characters are not worshiped. They were distant figures without a cluttered history. Non-threatening like English words for “Fuck” and “I love you” but place them in Darija by saying “taCowd” or “Kanbreek” and they carry all the fear and history and shame that certain words do. They are heavy and thick which might be why one of my friends tells me that it sounds so much better in English or French. Which word? All of them.

Why do you always say, “I fucked her! I fucked her too! I fucked her…” Because that’s what I did. Yes, I know, but why do you say that in English? It sounds better in English and when I say it in Arabic it’s disgusting. Why? Listen to the French word for ____ and listen to the English word for ____. Don’t they sound so much better. I don’t know, what exactly is the word in Darija. I can’t say it. I want to hear it. I can’t say it because it’s gross and when I hear myself say it about myself I feel disgusting. Do you think it all sounds better in English because you don’t have a history with these words? What do you mean?

I have a history with these words you’re using…do you ever think that I might flinch when I hear you say them in certain ways with regards to yourself…do you think that they might mean something to me and have a history and a context with me…I don’t feel bad listening to a meaningless sound that I never heard in my life before and that never had a ready context to dehumanize me…and in all honesty, even after you teach me that word and I know it’s = meaning, I still probably won’t be threatened for a long time since it has none of its power without a history or a context for me.

Images on the other hand like the Jewish Weeping Wall however are meaningful enough to incite hissing and booing. The roar ended only when the character who played Mary entered a Jerusalem church and placed her head on a holy stone, touching her chest in the sign of the cross.

I was the only one I could find afterwards who had been crying.

I didn’t intellectualize the film and still perhaps can’t tell you why it had me shaking but i was in stark contrast to my good friends who enjoyed it casually as a film about other religious characters that are more or less misguided but interesting which is perhaps how many Christian students approach Islam in university.

What I think was most unnerving to me was these characters are perhaps more important to me than I will ever admit, not because I am secretly religious but because they are both truthly outcasts of organized religion. They didn’t live to be apart of the powerful or the righteous since it was suppose to be about love. An that is what the film expressed by watching Jesus also a sleezy director and Mary as a lost but honest actress. Their charcters were humanized like I have never seen before.

When you take away the religion and you take away the church and temple and mosque, can these people ever really be real people that lived once. I think that if I knew them, these two, I’d love the way they could love. Doing things like Mary had done for him and that he did for his friends…taking himself out of every acceptable role in society in order to sit on the earth and express his love by washing their feet. It reminds me of my first love at 20, the misguided father, the lost mother and the last line of the film that is screamed in a panic, “Don’t look with your eyes, look with your heart.”

So many ways to pray. I am a pagan. I touch things, I make things, I love things. This is how I understand god.