Salma Hayek’s The Prophet: A lesson for peace, freedom and life
Beirut - “You can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfilment.”
This excerpt from The Prophet, the famous literary work of Lebanese writer Khalil Gibran, was cited by Rami Kamareddine, a 21-year-old university student, after he watched the animated feature movie based on the book.
“I felt free! Free of all the bonds I have moored myself to!” Kamareddine commented, adding with enthusiasm, “Thank you Salma Hayek. Now I am going to read my Gibran!”
The Prophet premiered in Beirut cinemas in April in the presence of co-producer, Lebanese-Mexican actress Salma Hayek, and scriptwriter and director Roger Allers, the maker of Disney’s The Lion King
Hayek, accompanied by her father, was on her first visit to Lebanon, her ancestral homeland. She said the movie had been a personal passion project, a tribute to her heritage and a message of peace addressed to the young generation to inspire them to think about ways to improve the world.
The movie is inspired by Gibran’s best known work, The Prophet, which is a series of 26 prose poems about love, joy, sorrow, death and work. It tells the story of Almitra, a young girl who finds the voice she lost through her friendship with Mustafa, the character personifying The Prophet. The film is composed of animated chapters by award-winning animation directors from around the world.
Hayek made a great impact on the Lebanese people. Her movie was an eye-opener for young people who discovered the universal work of one the 20th century’s leading writers and philosophers.
“This movie projected me into another dimension,” Mariam el Benawi, a 19-year-old veiled university student told The Arab Weekly. “I literally travelled to another world. Gibran will keep on echoing from generation to generation until the end of time.” That comment was in reference to a quote in the book; “When you love you should not say, ‘God is in my heart’, but rather, ‘I am in the heart of God’.”
For 17-year-old Mohammad, the citation that marked him most referred to the relationship between parents and children: “Your children” are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you and not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”
“What I really like is that I don’t belong to my parents! Parents must understand that we don’t ‘come from them, but through them, as Mustafa put it,” Mohammad said. “I really loathe the fact that people in our region think that kids are born into this world to serve their parents in their old age! … My parents are going to hear from me tonight! Gibran is my Bible from now on!”
Sarah, a young wife and mother of four, read the book in high school but did not quite understand it then. Now, as she is married, she fully appreciates what Gibran meant by “Love one another but make not a bond of love”.
“Gibran meant that couples shouldn’t get too close to become as one and that they should leave space for the wind to breathe between them,” Sarah contended. ”Thank you Salma Hayek for reminding me of one of life’s golden rules.”
For sure, Mustafa offered food for thought to the audience, especially the young Lebanese people, many of whom voiced anger and dismay for their ignorance of Gibran’s literary work. “Why weren’t we exposed to Gibran? Why is Gibran not included in our schools’ curriculum anymore?” asked Kamareddine.
The movie’s animated chapters were woven by a team of world renowned directors. Tom Moore, whose segment in The Prophet was on love, transported the audience from individuality to universality, from the love of oneself to the love of the universe and its creator.
Michal Socha, who directed the part on freedom, succeeded in drawing a painting of many birds that at first created their own cages and then flew away and blended with Mother Nature.
Nina Paley worked on the chapter on children. Through an assortment of human bows and arrows, the director was able to deliver a clear message on the relationship between parent and child. Her arrows hit a bull’s eye. Most of the attending youth left the theatre with the right argument to rest their case. Joann Sfar directed the section on marriage, an erotic yet beautiful, scene that transported the audience to the world of Cinderella and her Prince Charming and to Jane Austen’s heroes, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, who fall in love with each other but preserve their own entity and independence.
Mohammed Saeed Harib, an Emirati animation director who created the animated television series FREEJ, was responsible for the segment on good and evil. Through a well-crafted scene and a simple animation, he achieved Mustafa’s aim in transmitting the message that at heart, all people are good. Finally, Paul and Gaetan Brizzi worked on the segment about death, a dark subject they were able to depict in a heavenly and hopeful scene on after-life, leaving the audience in awe.
As a producer, Hayek succeeded in putting together philosophy, literature and the wisdom of life in a simplified animated movie to reach out and deliver Gibran’s message on life in a simple and understandable language.
At the Cannes festival last year, the movie drew applause from the audience for 20 minutes and it received the highest praise at the Toronto Film Festival.
In Lebanon, it touched hearts and snatched promises to lead to a rediscovery of Gibran in what seems to be a wake-up call in a country which experienced violence and hatred during many years of bloody conflicts and unrest.