For a not at all religious person, I end up seeing a lot of movies about spiritual reawakening. Perhaps this is somebody’s way of telling me something. Of course, what draws me to these movies is not the “after” they show –- the formerly lost lamb’s pious return to the flock -- but their depiction of the depravity and vice that came before that, something that, in most cases, these films tend to portray with a lot of enthusiasm.
In Ayna Tukhabi’un Al-Shams, this detour from the righteous path is shown in the form of a hippie commune presided over by an older couple by the names of Abrahim and Sophia. Sophia appears to have been an army nurse who is traumatized by her experiences in the war and is now wrestling with an addiction to morphine. (Images of war, in fact, permeate Ayna Tukhabi’un Al-Shams, with a jarring montage of actual news footage and photos turning up in its early minutes.) Abrahim, for his part, is a bald headed and boisterous papa bear.
As for the commune overall, a rainbow coalition of young people from apparently all ethnicities and backgrounds, its activities seem to be pretty benign, mostly restricted to lots of singing and dancing to some pretty righteous sounding Arabic psych-funk music. True, there are some foreboding looking pagan idols standing about, but if it’s Satan these kids are worshipping, their practice of it could easily be mistaken for a musical number from Godspell. The most decadent behavior we see is an instance of motorcycle jousting occasioned by a visit to the camp by some scruffy biker types, some doobie smoking, and a scene where Abrahim and Sophia jubilantly pour champagne over each other’s heads. All in all, it’s fairly north of the Manson family in terms of countercultural provocation. In any case, whatever philosophy guides the group, it proves to provide little spiritual cushioning for Abrahim once his son is killed in a mild looking motorcycle spill (there was apparently no money in the budget for actually wrecking a motorcycle).
Most information I can find about Ayna Tukhabi’un Al-Shams, also known as Where Do you Hide the Sun?, lists it as being an exclusively Libyan production, though it nonetheless benefits from a lot of international cooperation. Not only does it boast a Moroccan director in Abdallah al-Mubahi, but also two genuine Egyptian movie stars in the persons of Nadia Lufti, who plays Sophia, and Adel Adham, who plays Abrahim. Adham, true to his stature, really turns his acting up to “11” during the film’s second half, stumbling about in a loudly demonstrative state of desolation marked by constant sobbing and crying to the heavens. And, true, it looks kind of ridiculous, but at the same time feels more like real grief than what movies typically show us in this regard.
Because Ayna Tukhabi’un Al-Shams had the unmitigated gall to be in a language that I don’t understand, I can’t really shed any definitive light on its message. But I can say that it is quite obviously a film that is earnest in its didacticism. After a credit sequence depicting conflict through the ages in stylized drawings, we have a healthy swatch of sober narration, followed by a long sequence in which a panel that appears to be made up of clerics and professorial types debate the moral crisis at hand. The solution that the film depicts in terms of action is for Sophia to kick the drugs and return to the Christian church. Abrahim, in turn, makes the pilgrimage to Mecca, crying and lamenting all the while, and, once there, has a vision of being viciously stoned by his fellow followers to the accompaniment of the disco version of the Star Wars theme. I think it’s safe to say that, in the eyes of Ayna Tukhabi’un Al-Shams, whatever spirituality the hippies practiced may have had a good beat and been fun to dance to, but nonetheless couldn’t match the Big Four when it comes to putting a Band-Aid on our fear of death and loss.