EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|LION OF THE DESERT (aka: OMAR MUKHTAR) (director: Moustapha Akkad; screenwriters: H.A.L. Craig/Paul Thompson/David Butler; cinematographer: Jack Hildyard; editor: John Shirley; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: Anthony Quinn (Omar Mukhtar), Oliver Reed (Gen. Rodolfo Graziani), Irene Papas (Mabrouka), Raf Vallone (Colonel Diodiece), Rod Steiger (Benito Mussolini), John Gielgud (Sharif El Gariani), Andrew Keir (Salem), Gastone Moschin (Major Tomelli), Stefano Patrizi (Lt. Sandrini), Adolfo Lastretti (Colonel Sarsani); Runtime: 164; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Moustapha Akkad; Anchor Bay Entertainment; 1981-Libya/UK)|
|"It's one of the best
anti-colonial Hollywood film ever (almost on a par
with the Battle of Algiers)."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Epic action pic based on
history. It tells of Libyan Bedouin freedom fighter Omar Mukhtar (Anthony
Quinn), who fought the Italian invaders occupying his
country in a David and Goliath battle, from 1911 to
1931. After fighting for twenty years, in 1931, the
wily 73-year-old Omar, a Koran scholar, the title
character, was captured and hanged by the ruthless
egomaniacal fascist, looking for glory and a place in the history
books, Gen. Rodolfo Graziani (Oliver Reed). The brilliant general
was sent in 1929 by Benito Mussolini (Rod Steiger) to further his
expansionist aims (Italy also colonized Somalia and
ending the ongoing Libyan rebellion with massive troop
support, tanks and financial support to run a
barbed-wire fence between Libya and Egypt in order to cut off
to isolate the rebels holed-up in the mountains. The
Italian atrocities included the butchering of women
and children, causing displaced people to be
imprisoned in concentration camps (no gas ovens here),
burning the fields of farmers, poisoning wells,
destroying the food supply and subjecting the Libyans
to be second class citizens in their own country.
Director and producer Moustapha Akkad ("The Message"), a Hollywood filmmaker of Syrian birth and a Muslim, keeps things historically accurate, makes it a rip-snorting war story, gets to tell the truth about Islam and gets a superb performance from Anthony Quinn, perhaps his best ever, as the gentle Islamic Bedouin warrior who is a brilliant tactician resisting the occupation by using guerrilla warfare. Omar says throughout that no nation has the right to occupy another and that his people will never surrender: we will either win or die (which proved to be prophetic, since Omar's death did not end the struggle). It's one of the best anti-colonial Hollywood film ever (almost on a par with the Battle of Algiers) and one of the few Hollywood films where the viewer freely roots for the Arabs, because their cause is just and they fight bravely against a depraved enemy.
Unfortunately because Muammar Qaddafi's regime in Libya
bankrolled the film, that seemed to taint it and it
was poorly distributed and flopped at the box office.
That's too bad, especially since the Libyans did
nothing to alter the film. Also controversial is that
Akkad takes Mukhtar's legendary struggle against the
Italian army in the desert of Libya as a model for the
Arab struggle everywhere - which is arguable, as it
questions Israel and their occupation of Egyptian,
Jordanian and Syrian lands won in the 1967 war where
the Palestinians still live under Israeli rule in
those territories. For many the Palestinian situation is a different
story because not every occupation is the same.
Though, in recent history, America might have learned
that occupying Iraq, even to free them of an unpopular
dictator, is also not welcomed by all--because it
seems no one wants to be under the rule of another
The film's realpolitik Arab
theme and the stunning visuals (filmed in Rome and
Libya) should remind one of Lawrence of Arabia.
REVIEWED ON 7/18/2011 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ