Bel Halal (Review)

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So when you hear about a new upcoming Lebanese movie that talks about marriage in Islam, you would suddenly lose interest and expect a reinforcement of our Lebanese sectarian system, and if you decided to give it a shot and watch the movie, you would be waiting for offensive terms towards religion and God to criticize and bash the whole movie. Well, that was what I was expecting, and surprisingly, I was so wrong.

Bel Halal, is indeed a movie that examines a religious lifestyle; however, its comic mood as it swirls around the four realistic stories portrayed in this movie keeps your eyes attached to the screen for it illustrates not the conventional but the utopic kind of reality.

The media’s propaganda about Islam along with all the recent terrorist events has led to an increase in Islamophobia. People now associate terrorism and misogyny with this religion, while Bel Halal smoothly removes these thoughts from the audience’s minds.

When Islamic movements are known to forbid the education of women especially in countries like Pakistan where the young activist Malala has defied the system, this movie starts by a scene in which young girls are learning about reproduction at school.

When the majority of the Lebanese victims of domestic violence are Muslim women in a country in which violence is permissible not only by Sharia but also by law, this film depicts Muslim feminists at their very best. The Muslim Loubna (Darine Hamze) dares to divorce her husband whom her mother chose for her to reunite with who she thought was the love of her life. After she gets to live with him by the rules of Zawaj al-Muta’a (a Muslim form of short term marriage, meant only for sex), she discovers that he is not the man she has been dreaming about all her life. However, Loubna chooses to be strong after he tells her that he cannot marry her for real since she is a divorcee with a bad reputation. Not only does she walk away from her lover, but also faces her mother who also refers to her as a disappointment, and tells her that it is best to join her “faggot” brother in living abroad.

Another Muslim woman who rose above the antifeminist religious lifestyle was Awatef, a mother of two who is constantly overwhelmed by her husband’s sexual needs. Awatef dares to push her husband away, and suggests that he finds a second and younger wife to fulfill his desires with her, as a Muslim man can marry four women without divorcing any. This story in particular is a great example on how modern Muslim women have evolved into feminists; taking advantage of the silver linings in their Sharia.

The fourth story is about Batoul, a young woman who marries a very mentally abusive man who is so possessive of her, the reason why the couple have divorced twice already. When Mokhtar divorces Batoul for the third time, the Sharia states that they cannot get remarried before Batoul marries another man first. The wealthy Mokhtar tries to find a way around the law with a Sheikh, but has no luck in reaching a solution. He tries nonetheless to find another man for Batoul, a young Hindu janitor, to make sure that she never falls for him.

As mentioned above, Bel Halal illustrates a utopic reality. Utopic because it empowers Muslim women to challenge the patriarchal morals in their Sharia, as they teach them how to break in the clouds of their beliefs without being hypocrites. On the other hand, this movie has no ecstatic happy ending. The ending of the four stories are extremely realistic, which leaves the viewers, especially females, ready to face up with reality.

A satirical and provocative movie with a breeze of fun, Bel Halal is an irreplaceable inclusion to the Lebanese movies archive.

by Miriam Atallah

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