A rippling dance on the Middle East and the illusion of Western freedom
Athaar, which means “ruins” in Arabic, is a story about the identities people create, adopt, and reject as they question the traditional constructs of freedom. “The Western world has claimed the notion of freedom as its own,” says director Zara Naber. “Freedom is not seen as belonging to Arabs. It’s American, European, Western.
Eli El Sultan is the incredibly sculpted dancer at the heart of this performance film. As a Parisian of Middle Eastern heritage, he regales the viewer with an elevated rendition of his popular belly dancer cabaret performance. Sultan’s slow and undulating movements are a physical expression of his sexual liberation and queer identity, ameliorated by clothing and a dance style traditionally performed by women.
“As immigrants, the identities we adopt in our home countries often come in direct conflict with the identities we strive to create in our new country,” says Naber, who also wrote the story for this film. “Our emotions wager between nostalgia, fear, and an acute desire for liberation. While the notion of freedom is a highly diffuse concept, this story seeks to dismantle the Western notion of freedom, not to create a new one—but to reveal the shallowness of its construct.”August 25, 2021