Egyptian director Youssef Chahine's 1997 film Destiny (a.k.a. al-Massir) is dead out of context. The film is a more or less traditional historical epic, punctuated by the occasional song-and-dance number, about the Arab philosopher Averroes, whose works were burned by the Caliph to accommodate the growing factions of religious fundamentalists in 12th-century Andalucia Spain. Because Chahine's last film, The Emigrant (al-Mohager), was banned in Egypt, Destiny's censorship theme seems like a didactic and heavy-handed response to his critics. Yep, fundamentalism sure is dangerous, and book-burning can't halt the progress of thoughts and knowledge. What a revelation! Anyone going into Destiny blind is bound to be lost among the political machinations, while anyone oblivious to Averroes (or Chahine) and his works will likewise find little to latch on to. The film does have odd appeal as a surreal approximation of '50s musicals, and the Syrian and Lebanese locations are often stunning. But taken as it is, minus the generous benefit of the doubt earned by its overtly political intent, Destiny is a muddled and only minimally diverting costume drama, never as exciting as it tries to be and meaningful only in the most obvious of ways.
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