×

Film Review: ‘A Sinner in Mecca’

Gay Muslim filmmaker Parvez Sharma takes a forbidden camera with him to Mecca to film his pilgrimage.

With:
Parvez Sharma. (English, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi dialogue)  
Release Date:
Sep 4, 2015

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4666618/reference

Following “A Jihad for Love,” his docu about gay Muslims, Indian-born, New York-based helmer Parvez Sharma again looks to prove that his faith and sexuality are compatible, this time surreptitiously shooting via iPhone in the no-filming zone of Islam’s holiest city. “A Sinner in Mecca” is personal docu-making at its most strident, puffed up with righteousness as Sharma (justifiably) argues that Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi fundamentalism runs counter to the religion’s true loving precepts. Sensationalizing every moment of his hajj (pilgrimage) while calling attention to his devotion, the helmer comes across as far too pleased with himself, though countering the demonization of Islam is a necessary goal. A tiny Stateside release on Sept. 4 went virtually unnoticed, though TV sales should be more lucrative.

After the release of “Jihad,” Sharma was the target of a fatwa for apostasy, which is presumably why he approaches his hajj with such trepidation: “I am consumed by my fear of death at the hands of the Saudis,” is but one of the lines he intones, along with, “A cold, naked fear filled me as I walked towards Saudi immigration.” Ironically for a docu meant to counter the popular media perception of Islam as a religion of violence, “Sinner” indulges in blatant scare-mongering that does more to put the helmer in a heroic light than challenge anti-Muslim narratives. Curiously, it also feels distinctly anti-Shiite.

Sharma calls his pilgrimage his hajj of defiance: “I need evidence that my faith is strong enough to survive this journey.” But the real taboo he breaks, ostentatiously even if nominally hidden, is to film in Mecca, a city off-limits not just to cameras but to non-Muslims. The lure of forbidden sites has attracted those of other faiths long before Sir Richard Burton famously entered the city in disguise in the mid-19th century, so Sharma makes much of his rule-breaking; it’s his way of further critiquing Wahabism, even though restrictions on non-Muslims in Mecca predates Wahabism by multiple centuries.

Once there, he furtively films the various stages every pilgrim is enjoined to undertake, flagrantly ensuring that he gets selfies in prayer. Historians and cultural commentators have long lamented the way the Saudis have destroyed nearly all the old structures in the city, and Sharma rightly adds his voice, also complaining about the crass commercialization of the place. He criticizes how the Saudis have covered over and air conditioned the passageway Muslims must run between two hills (a ritual known as sa’yy), and then indignantly criticizes the lack of facilities and conveniences for the vigil on the plain of Arafat. His is a hajj of bitterness and anger, and yet at the end he states, “Islam’s beating heart will now forever beat in my heart.”

Ridiculous scary music accompanies Sharma’s dramatic recreation of a chat he had with a gay Saudi while waiting on line, though it’s a shame he never bothers to include an actual gay Saudi voice, even if disguised. Contrasted with the jazzy score overlaid on scenes in his Gotham apartment, the musical juxtaposition furthers Sharma’s goal of vilifying the Kingdom, always from an outsider’s p.o.v. Sequences in India allow him to reflect on his difficult post-coming-out relationship with his devout mother.

Film Review: 'A Sinner in Mecca'

Reviewed online, Copenhagen, August 25, 2015. (In Hot Docs; OutFest.) Runing time: 79 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Haram Films production, in association with ARTE, ZDF. Produced by Parvez Sharma. Co-producer, Alison Amron. Executive producer, Andrew Herwitz.

Crew: Directed, written by Parvez Sharma. Camera (color), Sharma, Husain Akbar; editor, Alison Amron; co-editor, Sajid Akbar; music, Akbar, M.E. Manning; sound, Ira Spiegel; line producer, White Canvas Films; associate producer, Win-Sie Tow.

With: Parvez Sharma. (English, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi dialogue)  

More Film

  • ABA_062_DAU_0060_v0409.87501 – Rosa Salazar stars as

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' Wins Dismal President's Day Weekend

    Fox’s sci-fi adventure “Alita: Battle Angel” dominated in North America, but its opening weekend win isn’t leaving the box office with much to celebrate. Tracking services estimate that this will be one of the lowest grossing President’s Day weekends in years. Ticket sales are on pace to be the smallest bounty for the holiday frame [...]

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Make-Up and Hair Stylist Guild Applauds Academy's Stance on Airing Every Oscar Winner

    Rowdy boos were followed by triumphant cheers at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Hollywood union touched on a week of controversy over a reversed decision to hand out four Oscars during the show’s commercial breaks. Hair and makeup was one of the four categories that would [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content