The Idol (يا طير الطاير)

Tawfeek Barhom plays Mohammad Assaf in The Idol

Based on a true story of an aspiring Palestinian singer who crosses the Gaza border to compete in Arab Idol, a popular TV singing competition, back in 2013.


Movie Details…

  • Arabic title: The Idol, Ya Tayr El Tayer, يا طير الطاير
  • Director: Hany Abu-Assad
  • Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Kais Attalah, Hiba Attalah, Nadine Labaki
  • Language: Arabic
  • Genre: Drama, biography, music
  • Release date: 11 September 2015
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Did You Know…

  • The Idol  is based on the true story of Mohammad Assaf. (Certain events were fictionalized in the film)
  • It is also Gaza’s first feature film.
  • The Arabic title ‘Ya Tayr Al Tayer‘ means ‘The Flying Bird’.
  • Filming took place in Gaza, Beirut, Amman, Cairo and Jenin.
  • Millions of viewers across the Arab world watched Assaf win the second season of Arab Idol.
  • Assad was nicknamed Asaroukh, which means ‘The Rocket’, by Ragheb Alama, Lebanese singer and judge of Arab Idol, during his time in the show.

… and some Quotes…

  • I need to get out of this place before it kills me” – Mohammad Assaf (Tawfeek Barhom)
  • Don’t let anyone tell you your dreams can’t come true. Ok?” – Singing coach (unnamed)
  • Our voice must be heard” – Mohammad Assaf (Tawfeek Barhom)

… and lastly, my thoughts…

This film was inspired by true a story of a Palestinian man’s quest to become winner of Arab Idol – a Middle Eastern version of American Idol.

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad, The Idol is Gaza’s first feature film and is selected for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars.

The Idol also known as Ya tayer al tayer in Arabic is a 2015 biopic that tells the story of Mohmmad Assaf, a Palestinian man and an aspiring singer from a refugee camp in Gaza, who decides to audition for Arab Idol. He crossed the Gaza – Cairo border illegally and forged documents to enter Egypt, where the auditions are taking place. Bceaue the slots were all taken once he arrived, he broke into the building and was given a ticket by a young contestant after hearing him singin the toilet  and out of all odds won the second season of Arab Idol. He became a hero for his country. He made his country proud.

I remember watching it and seeing how talented Mohammad Assaf was and I thought to myself, this guy is going to win and they’re going to make a film about his life.

The story itself is quite inspiring. I mean he sneaked across the border and climbed up the wall of the audition building and ended up winning. This was film material. This was a story waiting to be adapted on screen.

However, I felt the director failed to touch our hearts. Abu-Assad’s filmmaking is simple in its approach that it fails to capture the compelling story of Mohammad Assaf’s road to victory.

Although the director gives the viewers a captivating look into the Arab world and the struggle of survival in Palestine under Israeli occupation, he fails to give us authentic or aesthetic shots. We want more.

It shows us that the director is more interested in Assaf’s culture than the story of the man with the powerful voice. Some scenes were beautifully shot, I can’t argue with that, but I didn’t feel like I connected with Assaf’s journey.

For example, this applies to the scene where his friends request Assaf to sing for them while he drops them off at the hospital. As he sings, there is a shot of him singing then the director takes a medium shot of the two girls sitting in the backseat and then the director moves the camera to the exterior, showing us buildings demolished, no sign of greenery, just all sand. The director is showing us Palestinians landscape and corruption. there. I would’ve wanted to see more of Assaf, maybe some close ups on his face, his emotions.

Another problem I found is that the film spends most of it running time on Assaf’s childhood.

What I was moslty confused about was when Assaf himself steps in for the actor and takes the role at the end of the film. This basically raises question on why bother to hire an actor to play the role when you can get the real person?

Abu-Assad added real-life footage of Assaf and extended reaction shots from the real judges, audience members and cheering crowds in Gaza streets. This would’ve worked out more as documentary. Don’t you think?

However, Tawfeek Barhom, who plays Mohammad Assaf, had a magnetic presence but I found the acting somewhat neutral. I wasn’t convinced enough. I wouldn’t say it was Meryl Steep good! If you know what I mean?!

And the songs originally song by Mohammad Assaf didn’t really synch in with the actors mouth movement in the film. It felt so unrealistic.

If I had to rate this film, I would give it 2.5 stars out of 5. I’m not saying it’s all that bad. I’m such saying that with an incredible story that inspired millions of Arabs as well as other countries, this would have been made better.

Note: All above images are screenshots of the original movie.

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