Muhammad: The Messenger of God (film)
|Muhammad: The Messenger of God|
|Directed by||Majid Majidi|
Muhammad Mehdi Heidarian|
Alireza Shoja Nouri
Seyed Sadegh Hatefi
|Music by||A. R. Rahman|
|Edited by||Roberto Perpignani|
Noor-e-Taban Film Company Production
Infinite Production Company GmbH
|Budget||$ 50 million |
Muhammad: The Messenger of God (Persian: محمد رسولالله, translit. Mohammad Rasulollah) is a 2015 Iranian Islamic epic film directed by Majid Majidi and co-written with Kambuzia Partovi. The film is set in the sixth century where the story revolves around the childhood of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The film marks the biggest-budget production in Iranian cinema to date. Development of Muhammad: The Messenger of God began in 2007 and Majidi wrote the first draft of the screenplay by 2009. By 2011, a colossal set created in the city of Qom near Tehran was ready for the majority of the film. Several scenes were filmed in South Africa. Throughout the filming process, Majidi worked with a team of historians and archaeologists for the work on accuracy of the early life of Prophet Muhammad. Post-production works began in Munich during late 2013 and were completed in 2014. The cinematography is done by Vittorio Storaro and film score is composed by A. R. Rahman.
The film was set to have its premiere at the Fajr International Film Festival on 1 February 2015 but was pulled out due to technical difficulties. For the critics, film-makers and journalists, a special screening was held at Cinema Farhang in Iran on 12 February 2015. The film was released both in Iran and at Montreal World Film Festival on 27 August 2015. The film was selected as the Iranian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.
By the order of Abraha, King of Habasha, one of his army commanders launches an attack on Mecca in order to destroy the Kaaba. He leads a well-equipped force of thousands of soldiers, horses and elephants. As the army approaches Mecca, the elephants respond to divine order by halting and refusing to continue. Millions of small birds then release a hail of stones onto Abraha's forces and the army is annihilated. A month later, Muhammad is born. This film depicts the pre-Islamic Arabia as seen through the eyes of Muhammad from birth to the age of 13.
- Mahdi Pakdel as Abu Talib
- Alireza Shoja Nouri as Abdul Muttalib
- Mohsen Tanabandeh as Samuel
- Sareh Bayat as Halimah
- Dariush Farhang as Abu Sufyan
- Rana Azadivar as Umm Jamil
- Hedayat Hashemi as Hanateh
- Sadegh Hatefi as Bahira
- Mina Sadati as Aminah
- Negar Abedi as Hanateh's wife
- Hamidreza Tajdolat as Hamza
- Mohammad Asgari as Abū Lahab
- Pantea Mehdinia as Fatimah
- Jafar Ghasemi as Harith
- Arash Falahat Pisheh as Abraha
- Ali Asghar Khatibzadeh as Benjamin
- Nasrin Nosrati as Berkah
In 2006, Majid Majidi's film The Willow Tree was about to have its premiere at the 17th NatFilm Festival. However, the director backed out the screening of the film citing the controversy created by the Jyllands-Posten over cartoon depiction of Islamic Prophet–Muhammad. According to Majidi, the publishing insulted the population of Muslim people and disrespected the boundaries of the holy sanctuaries of beliefs. This led him to the idea of making a film on Prophet Muhammad. Later, to make a more practical response to the insulting act of the newspaper, he took up the subject of Prophet of Islam.
I thought to myself how can they hold an honoring ceremony for me in a country where my beliefs and sanctities are insulted... So, in a letter I said I could not attend the ceremony (in a country) where my holiest sanctities are desecrated. Instead of showing reaction to the insults to Islamic sanctities, it is better to do some action to introduce the Islamic culture and that is why production of the movie 'Muhammad (PBUH)' was started 7 years ago.— Majid Majidi on tracing the instinct to begin the project Muhammad: The Messenger of God.
The pre-production began in October 2007 with the first draft for the screenplay ready by March 2009. In early 2011, an enormous set of an estimate 100 hectares area was built near the city Qom. The set resembled sixth-century Mecca and Medina during the early years of the life of Muhammad. A replica of Kaaba shrine was built in the remote village of Mazraeh-ye Allahyar. In October 2011, Majidi officially announced the project, calling it as his 'most ambitious and expensive film project'. He did not hint about the title of the project or its content but he added that it would 'bring pride to Iran and Iranians'. By the following month, filming had commenced and minister of culture and Islamic guidance Mohammad Hosseini confirmed that a movie about Muhammad was being filmed. The film was partially funded by Iranian government. Further, Mohammad Mehdi Heidarian was announced as the producer. Shining Light (Noor-e-Taban) was the project's financial backer. However, in a turn of events, reports of November 2012, claimed the film was titled Muhammad's Childhood. Majidi opined that many Muslims know so little about the prophet's upbringing. His objective was to orientate the audience with the period of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic era), and how it was before the appearance of the Prophet. Majidi framed the screenplay to depict Quraysh tribe and how the Prophet was raised against this backdrop yet developed very firm principles since an early age. The cinematographer of the film Vittorio Storaro, arrived in Iran with a 30-man crew. Storato accepted the project after he had a brief discussion about the film with Majidi in Rome. Scott E. Anderson was involved as a visual effects supervisor. Croatian production designer Miljen Kreka Kljakovic directed the art of the film. According to Majidi, he and a research team of historians and archaeologists had consulted with Shia and Sunni scholars from Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon and Iraq in order to ensure accurate portrayal of Muhammad's early years. Further consultations of Majidi were advices of jurists and clerics to explain his vision and the impressions that he wanted to communicate through this film. He met and discussed the film with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who supported and viewed the final movie, Ali Al-Sistani, Ayatollah Wahid Khorasani, and Iranian philosopher Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli were involved. Majidi's research team also sought the advice of Sunni Ulama, among whom was the Turkish Hayrettin Karaman. Giannetto De Rossi was chosen to provide make up to the characters. Costume designers from Germany, Croatia and Slovenia were chosen in August 2013. While speaking at a press conference, for the creation of a logotype representing Muhammad, Majidi stated that the film intends to fight against any improper image of Islam the West has in mind. The logotype was designed by calligrapher Mohammad Jalil Rasouli. Mohammed Mahdi Heidarian, head of the Noor-e-Taban Film Industry Company Production, confirmed that his firm had spent $40 million on the epic film.
Majority of the filming was done in secrecy and without any news coverage, allowing no journalists to visit or report from filming locations. Further, Majidi talked less to his actors face to face, and mostly they needed to talk to his assistants. In an interview with Mumbai Mirror, Majidi stated that for filming on a grand scale he faced many problems of administration and logistics. As 40 per cent of the story takes place in Mecca in the 6th century, Majidi and his team recreated the city to what it would have been 1400 years ago. Filming was done at a set constructed near the city Qom, Iran. Later, the location of the set was named as "Prophet Muhammad Cinematic City" due to its grandiosity in structure and area. Certain scenes requiring elephants were filmed at Bela-Bela in South Africa. Despite having meagre sources, no paintings from that period to help us in the process, the team tried to make the location as historically accurate as possible. Besides this, in other locations they had problems with constructions, with providing costumes and animals, transporting elephants and handling the huge number of people on the shoot, as some days the team had nearly 3000 extras present on the site.
In the beginning of the film, a message appears that states the film encompasses historical facts as well as free personal impressions about the Prophet Muhammad. Accordingly, some of the film's events did not actually take place in real life, but are indeed similar to events in the Prophet's biography and which exhibit his mercy, blessings and sympathy for all humankind regardless of whether they were Muslims or not. Majidi stated that the objective behind presenting these scenes is to show that the whole existence could feel the prophet's presence as well as his mercy.
In an interview with Iranian Film Daily, Majidi was quoted saying, "A whole town as well as a full-scale Mecca were recreated down to the most minute detail." The film script depicts Muhammad's adventures through the age of twelve. Majidi added that the film starts with Muhammad's adolescence, and his childhood is shown through flashbacks. The makers chose the period before Muhammad became a prophet. Considering difficulties and Islamic beliefs on the countenance of Muhammad, Majidi stated, "The face of the Prophet is not shown in the film. By hiding his face I will make the character more intriguing for the viewer." Cinematographer Storato, compensated the facial look by focusing on other tools of expression like camera movement with use of lighting.Further, another Steadicam that focuses on the Prophet's perspective was used other than few cameras for the rest of the cast. The film's frame rate was increased from 24 cadres per second to 30 cadres per second for the movement to be more smooth.
To clear the controversies attached with the project, Majidi said, "The film contains no controversies and no differences between the Shia and the Sunni points of view." The story ends with his journey to Syria and encounter with Bahira. Filming was completed by October 2013.
The post-production works began in Munich by the October 2013. In 2014, Majidi revealed that the film would be ready by end of 2014 and would be submitted to the Fajr International Film Festival in Iran. By mid-2014, the film was in the final stages of post-production. In January 2015, work on the special effects and music composition were being carried out. In February 2015, Majidi was in France to resolve issues pertaining to sound-mix engineering.
In November 2014, director Majid Majidi was appointed as the President of the Jury of 33rd Fajr International Film Festival in Iran. Moreover, the film is set to have its world premiere through the same. However, objections were raised on the film's release due to inclusion of a jury member and his film. In a press conference, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Hossein Nooshabadi answered, "I think the films produced about the life of Prophet Muhammad by other filmmakers so far, have a lot of flaws and faults and for the first time in Iranian cinema, such an exemplary work in the Muslim world has been produced by Majid Majidi as a Muslim and professional filmmaker." The film was set to premiere at the opening of 33rd Fajr Film Festival on 1 February 2015. However, the screening was cancelled citing technical difficulties with the audio of the film. Majidi clarified that the existing movie theater's sound environment at Milad Tower in Tehran was incompatible with the film's sound mix.
On 12 February 2015, the film was screened for filmmakers, journalists and film critics at Farhang Theater Hall in Tehran. The film released at an estimated 143 theaters in Iran and premiere at Montreal Film Festival on 27 August 2015. Owing to positive response to premiere, an additional screening was held at Cinema Imperial in Montreal on 7 September 2015. The film was screened at Hamadan Film Festival on September 29, 2015.
On November 5, 2015, the film was screened in Grand Galaxy Cinema in Beirut, Lebanon. On November 18, 2015, the film was screened at the 23rd Camerimage International Film Festival in Bydgoszcz. Majid Majidi and Vittorio Storaro were honored with "Outstanding Cinematic Duo Award". On January 16, 2016, the film was screened in Masrah al—Watani in Baghdad.
The film met with widespread criticism prior to its theatrical release, originating from Arab countries. In February 2015, Egypt's Al-Azhar University called on Iran to ban the film. According to the University, the film describes debasing of the sanctity of messengers from God. Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al Shaykh condemned the film, stating that the film depicts the Prophet in an 'untrue light' and undermines the important role he plays in Islam. The film stands a mockery of the Prophet and a degradation of his status. The Muslim World League (MWL) had also denounced the movie on account of scenes characterizing the body and figure of the Prophet. In India, Raza Academy issued a fatwa against the film director Majid Majidi and film score writer A. R. Rahman. The Raza Academy also demanded a ban on the film.
Mostafa Seyedabadi states that the color and lighting in the film was "astonishing". Critic Masoud Farasati dismissed certain film's shots, like a low-angle view of the prophet as a teen against the sky and called it a "Hollywood" knockoff. In a first look review published by The Guardian, the critic gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, stating, "Majidi chronicles the first ripples of this revolutionary wave in a handsome, pre-CGI-era epic style. His film is intellectually honest, committed and poetic." Contrary to the positive review, Alissa Simon of Variety stated, "Although many of Majidi's earlier films dealt with the spiritual purity that comes with selfless love and deliver a religious rapture of sorts, "Muhammad: The Messenger of God" feels stiff and awkward, burdened rather than elevated by its weighty subject matter. And it doesn't help that the characters remain cardboard cutouts of historical figures, never attaining any psychological or emotional life." Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter opined that the film was 'moving' in moments, but mainly overdone and underwhelming. Reza Abbas Farishta of The Muslim Vibe magazine rated the film 93%, stated: "My last thoughts are directed towards Majid Majidi and his team who dedicated 7 years of their life for this herculean task, and have blessed us with this beautiful masterpiece."
The film score is composed by A. R. Rahman. It took six months for A. R. Rahman to understand the kind of film score that Majid Majidi wanted for "Muhammad: The Messenger of God". He worked on the score for a year and a half. The soundtrack was released by Sony DADC on December 23, 2015.
The film raked in an estimate $60,000 on the opening day in Tehran. Further, in two weeks post the release, it grossed roughly $2 million. Despite the film being labelled a box-office flop, it was the top-grossing movie of that year with a total of over $1.8 million.
The producers of the film have planned two sequels that would complete the trilogy of films. The first would focus on Muhammad's life from his teenage years to his 40s. The next one would depict life after his 40s until when he ultimately becomes the Prophet of Islam.
Awards and nominations
|2015||Camerimage International Film Festival||Outstanding Cinematic Duo Award||Vittorio Storaro & Majid Majidi||Won|
- List of submissions to the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film
- List of Iranian submissions for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
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- Muhammad: The Last Prophet
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