At one point or another, we here in Lebanon have heard of the name Gibran Khalil Gibran. Whether it was in school or through his many, many publications and paintings, the author-philosopher’s written work, as well as his artwork is renowned internationally, and has made him a cultural and literary icon in Lebanon specifically.
Khalil Gibran broke out into fame with the release of The Prophet,now regarded the writer’s most prominent work. Published in more than forty languages, it features 26 prose poetry essays dealing with subjects like the human condition, life, death, love, teaching, and others. To date, the book has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. And on April 27, 2015, it was brought to the big screen in the form of an animated movie, starring Oscar-nominated actors Salma Hayek, Liam Neeson, and Quvenzhané Wallis, among others.
The story follows Almitra (voiced by Quvenzhané Wallis), a mute, local ruffian, who befriends Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson), a well-loved poet. After seven years of confinement, Mustafa is set free, but his long-awaited return to his home is halted time and time again as he encounters the townspeople — including Almitra’s mother Kamila (voiced by Salma Hayek) — and shares his philosophies and teachings with them.
The voice actors do a fantastic job with their respective roles. While Hayek and Wallis deliver a believable performance as a caring and considerate mother and an adventurous girl respectively, it was ultimately Neeson who stole the show. It was refreshing to see the actor in a completely different type of role, but it suited him well. His voice carried the charisma and charm Mustafa needed.
Hayek, whose grandparents are Lebanese, voiced her happiness having finally visited the land of her ancestors, where the worldwide premiere of The Prophet took place. “I had a thorn in my heart [because] I had traveled the world, but had never been able to come here…but that pain in my heart is gone.” While the actress shares American and Mexican roots, she explained that her family had led a predominantly lebanese life despite not returning to the country. She joked about how she was so exposed to lebanese culture, she’d tried the kebbe (arabic layered meat dish) before the taco.
Like its multicultural cast, the entire film was put together by people from all over the world, such as director Roger Allers (“The Lion King,” “Aladdin”), segment director Mohammed Saeed Harib, and music composer Gabriel Yared, who were all present at a press conference in Beirut following the screening. Allers commented on how the work behind the scenes to make the movie stood for what Khalil Gibran did with his book, and that’s bring together people from different races, countries, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds together in support of one common goal. “It was a way for everybody [involved] to express themselves in their own style and their own vision,” said Allers.
As mentioned, Oscar and Grammy winning composer Gabriel Yared lent his talents to the score, creating a soundtrack that entranced the listener with its beauty. It reflected the best of both western and eastern music, and represented the fine nuances of old Lebanese music in particular. In addition, artist Yo Yo Ma pitched in with a cello composition that only added to the quality of music. On the topic of sound, it should be added that the sound design in the movie was immaculately done, delivering a sense of authenticity to the animated feature.
That said, the most striking thing about the film is its exquisite art. There’s no looking away from the absolutely stunning work put into the creation of the film’s visuals. From the coziness and comfort it conveys to the rustic appeal it retains, the film transports the viewer to a world of limitless imagination and beauty that warms your heart. And the choice to make the film an animation also speaks to Khalil Gibran‘s being artist, which is a good way to pay homage to all the talents the cultural figure shared.
While the individual scenes of this spiritual musical drama were gorgeous, they were a bit disoriented in the sense that their placement seemed arbitrary. But considering the adaptation was of a poetry book, the format grows on you pretty quickly. Still, the sequences were beautiful, but failed to come together.
Atop these talents, of course, is his writing. The story was adapted by Allers to produce a poetic and fascinating script that rendered both s/he who was well-read in Khalil Gibran and s/he who wasn’t, awed with the simplistic beauty of words on a page, and the profound impact they could. However, Mustafa, the character from whom most of the poetic lines in the movie came, was a bit glorified; every time he recited poetry, the townspeople were left speechless and bewildered. Moreover, contrary to the appeal Hayek claimed an animated adaptation of The Prophet would have on “a younger as well as older audience,” I believe that the gems of the film are the art and the script, and both might not be tailored to younger audiences.
The film is very obviously endearing to its Lebanese audience for the philosopher, artist and writer who inspired it, and his importance to the country. That said, in considering the film’s international appeal, one would wonder if it would leave the same effect in western audiences. But in its essence, the movie is not about Lebanon and Khalil Gibran himself, it’s about raw humans, and the bonds shared between them, and as Hayek explained, that’s something universal that’ll appeal to anyone in the world.
A beautiful piece of art, philosophy, and literature, The Prophet is a mesh of cultures that brings out the best of all its talented cast and crew, and does justice to the man who inspired it all. The makers expressed their interest in making a biographical film about Khalil Gibran, and spreading his legacy to more parts of the world. As for Salma Hayek, she expressed her utter joy in the ability to come to her homeland with a gift to it in her arms, one that she and her colleagues are very, very proud of.
Image Sources: usnews.com, konbini.com, hitfix.com, awn.com, thenational.ae
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