Iran premieres big-budget epic film "Muhammad"


Iran's most expensive movie, "Muhammad", which chronicles the childhood of the Muslim Prophet, opened nationwide last week, winning praise from early audiences.

Directed by Majid Majidi, the 171-minute, visually stunning film cost around €36 million, partly funded by the state, and took more than seven years to complete.

Majidi says the aim of his work, the first part of a trilogy, is to reclaim the rightful image of Islam, which he said extremists have distorted. "Unfortunately, at this time, the impression of Islam is of a radical, fanatical and violent religion, which is not what it's about," he said in Montreal, where "Muhammad" had its international premiere, hours after screening back home. "The barbaric acts of terrorism conducted by terrorist groups under the guise of Islam are not related to Islam," he said, alluding to beheadings and destruction of cultural treasures by Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. "Islam is a religion of peace, friendship and love, and I tried to show this in the film."

"Muhammad", which captures Saudi Arabia more than 1,400 years ago, offers much more than stereotypical trains of Arabs on camels riding across yellow sand dunes. It takes cinemagoers from the birth of the future Prophet up to his teenage years, and is packed with miracles.

The crew of "Muhammad" is indicative of the film's ambition. It includes three-time Oscar-winning Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, while the score was devised by India's Allah Rakha Rahman, a double Academy Award winner for the Danny Boyle-directed blockbuster "Slumdog Millionaire".

Outside the Imperial Cinema in Montreal, around 50 protesters chanted against Iran, accusing Majidi of betrayal and calling the event Iranian propaganda.

The film is the second major production on the Prophet. The first, "Muhammad, Messenger of God", was made in 1976 by Syrian-American filmmaker Moustapha Akkad. It was a huge success with Shia Iranians.

In order to "preserve the dignity" of the Prophet, "Muhammad" was excluded from competition in Iran's major Fajr festival in February and was instead showcased in a separate showing.

While Iran has denounced cartoons of the Prophet like those published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Shias are generally more relaxed than Sunnis about depiction of religious figures.

Many showings of "Muhammad" in Shia-majority Iran have already sold out, but the film has triggered controversy in the Sunni world.

No announcement has yet been made on when the two other parts of the "Muhammad" trilogy, covering the rest of his life, will be produced.    (AFP)

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