Bab’Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul is a meditative spiritual journey that feeds the soul. A triumphant illustration of the beauty of Islamic culture and Sufism, the film is inviting, gentle and open. It has a spiritual essence, and its soulful narrative makes it perfect to either spend a night alone with, or to watch with the whole family.
by Sarah Khurshid
Bab’Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul is about a blind dervish and his young granddaughter, Ishtar, as they navigate a vast and barren desert in search of a dervish reunion that takes place once every thirty years. Our compelling protagonists meet friendly companions and share legendary tales that are brought alive throughout their epic journey. Poetic verses and aesthetically sublime visuals help add to the film’s effective portrayal of the tortures and the joys of the soul on its spiritual journey.
Whilst watching this movie, I felt like I was eating a bowl of warm and finely-spiced soup that my mum had made me on a cold winter night after attending my Madrassah. I was blown away by the trusting relationship between Bab’Aziz (portrayed by the late Parviz Shahinkou) and Ishtar (portrayed by Maryam Hamid) that created a realistic family dynamic, and a very comforting vibe, despite being set in an empty, lonely and desolate desert. Ishtar is adorable and daring, whilst Bab’Aziz is classical and wise. The film is another tearjerker and I was completely drawn into Ishtar and Bab’Aziz’s spiritual journey. It features multiple lines of wisdom and poignant Quranic verses and after watching the film, I found myself in a deep contemplative state, as I questioned my existence, my purpose and my duty to God.
The entire one hour and thirty-four-minute feature is a picturesque, and atmospheric, masterpiece. Although it has catchy music, mesmerising clothes, dynamic dervish whirling and stunning visuals, the film is a slow-burn and does not contain too much action or tension. It serves to enrich viewers with gems of knowledge cultivated from the various stories that are told on screen and champions the diversity and uniqueness of Islamic culture globally. The film upholds a sense of mystery and encapsulates soulful energy making it an inspired spiritual pick-me-up and family feature.
Award-winning director, Nacer Khemir, who directed Bab’Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul in 2005, intended the film to be the third part of a desert trilogy (including 1984’s Wanderers on the Desert and 1991’s The Dove’s Lost Necklace), that focused on Islamic mysticism and classical culture. Unlike its predecessors, however, Bab’Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul focuses exclusively on Sufi themes. Khemir wanted the film to show an ‘open, tolerant and friendly Islamic culture.’
Poetry and rich literature are synonymous with Sufism and Khemir uses his profound writing skills to champion this beautiful aspect of Islamic culture. In addition, the legendary Italian screenwriter, Tonino Guerra (who has previously worked with titans in cinema, including Tarkovsky and Fellini), had a hand in contributing to the screenwriting.
Bab’Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul won Best Film at the Fajr Film Festival, Best Picture at the Muscat International Festival and received many other accolades. Moreover, the film features a star-studded cast, including Golshifteh Farahani who has appeared as the lead role in About Elly (2009) and most recently, alongside Chris Hemsworth in Extraction (2020).
Bab’Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul is a triumphant illustration of the beauty of Islamic culture and Sufism. The movie is inviting, open and soft. It has a spiritual essence, and its soulful narrative makes it perfect either to spend a lone night with, or to watch with the whole family.
However, before you start planning your weekend viewing we’re sorry to say that it isn’t currently available on Alchemiya. We think it’s such a lovely film we decided to write about it anyway! All we have is the trailer, but we are planning a special feature on documentaries that explore the worlds of dervishes, Sufism and Rumi so watch this space.