This second feature in Nacer Khemir’s Desert Trilogy is a visually ravishing folktale reminiscent of The Thousand and One Nights. The story revolves around Hassan, who is studying Arabic calligraphy from a grand master. Coming across a fragment of manuscript, Hassan goes in search of the missing pieces, believing that once he finds them, he will learn the secrets of love. With the help of Zin, a lovers’ go-between, he meets the beautiful Aziz, Princess of Samarkand. After encountering wars, a battle between false prophets and an ancient curse, he learns that an entire lifetime would not suffice for him to learn the many dimensions of love.
Tunisian director Nacer Khemir, also a poet, painter and professional storyteller, notes: “The film takes place in Moslem Andalusia of the 11th century. But it’s not a question of reconstituting a given time and place, but rather of summoning up the reflection of a forgotten garden, and out of a yearning for peace, so difficult to protect from barbarians and from destructive fanaticisms. Andalusia has been the meeting place of many cultures, a living dialog of the peoples and religions whose traces can still be deciphered in texts, music and gardens all the way from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. This is not an Andalusian love story, but Andalusia as the very essence of love, through its perfumes, poetry and gardens.” —Typecast Films
Nacer Khemir (Arabic: ناصر خمير), born in 1948 in Korba, Tunisia, is a Tunisian writer, artist, storyteller, and filmmaker.
From an early age, Khemir was fascinated by classical Arabic culture and by storytelling. He has cited the One Thousand and One Nights as a particular influence, saying, “I am a child of these stories.” However, in spite of this interest and a similar, lasting passion for film, Khemir initially planned a career as a painter and sculptor – a path he has, throughout his life, continued to pursue; his art has been exhibited at, among other institutions, the Centre Pompidou and the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.
In 1966, at the age of eighteen, he was awarded a UNESCO fellowship to study film in Paris. In 1975, he completed his first film, L’Histoire du pays du Bon Dieu (The History of God’s Country), shot in his hometown of Korba and featuring the desert setting and spiritual overtones that would figure prominently in his later work.
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This is a ravishingly beautiful film. Khemir is a cinematic poet of the highest order. Watching this is like being transported into a dream world that exists outside of our own. It is impossible not to become immersed in it, like bathing in some fine liquid. It's hard to explain, but this is a wonderful film.