This film is an entertaining and thrilling mix of melodrama, music, history, grief and joy, showing the best and worst sides of human nature.
The story is set in medieval Moorish Spain, and concerns the conflict between Averroes; a historical humanistic Muslim philosopher; and a group of reactionary fundamentalists. It is extremely well acted and the characters are sympathetic as well as credible. It is often forgotten that many of the Islamic societies of the Middle Ages (particularly in Spain) were way ahead of Europe in science, mathematics, medicine, religious tolerance and most intellectual pursuits. However, there were periodic and sometimes serious conflicts with those who resented these trends.
This is not just an historical epic. The Egyptian director, a very courageous man named Youssef Chanine, deliberately molded the script to show how fanaticism not only undermines a society's intellect, but destroys the very souls of its members. Particularly disturbing, but highly relevant to our times is his portrayal of the subtle manner in which young men are recruited into these movements and about how empty and dishonest they turn out to be.
Although the population of medieval Andalusia was 10-15% Jewish and Averroes had extensive contact with both Jewish and Christian intellectuals, there isn't a Jew in sight and the only Christians depicted are evil, fanatical, external enemies who enter into a secret pact with the fundamentalist cult. While this is not entirely accurate and a gross simplification of the actual situation at the time, I don't fault Mr. Chanine. He has endured extreme legal harassment in the Egyptian courts over this and another film as well as extensive death threats against himself and his family. Merely exploring the themes portrayed in this movie has put his head on the chopping block, and any sympathetic depiction of Jews or Christians would have resulted in the banning of the film and possibly his head rolling into the basket. He deliberately crafted this film to educate his own society about the moral corruption and debasement of violent fanatical behavior and no doubt wanted to make sure the message got out.
A bold, yet gently provocative film by a very brave man.