Belief and Self-Reflexivity

in 62nd Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festiva

by Youngmee Hwang

The documentary The Virgin, the Copts and Me (La vierge, les coptes et moi) chases the essence of religions under the cover of looking for an historical root in Egypt by the director Namir Abdel Messeeh, who was born in Egypt and raised in France. This movie is meaningful because it shows the process of dipping. This self-reflexivity film reveals that the life is the movie itself as well as the director himself.

He directs the documentary in a way that blurs the reality to whether the videotape taken in 1968 is real or produced after the fact. His mother (Siham Abdel Messeeh) believed the scene of the videotape ‘Incarnation of Virgin’. Coptic Christian is called Egyptian Orthodox, this film showed characteristics of the Orthodox, which scared The Virgin. In one scene, his mother said she had surely saw that there was a light floating in the skies, which is likely the UFO in the picture.

Unlike his mother who is a devout Coptic Christian, Namir was raised in France and can’t understand his mother’s creed because he has been far from the religion for a long time. His mother’s character is very dramatic even though this film is a documentary. At first his mother rejected her son’s directing of the film. She argued that not believing in the light, Virgin, and trying to identify the real is the sin itself.

He wanted to set the documentary in his mother’s hometown. However, his mother commanded him not to shoot her family. Although she was against the filming, she gave advice to help him understand the setting (showing him the bright light). In addition, she played the role of Producer herself to help her son make the documentary.

Most Egyptians are Muslim. Muslims at the time said that Maria appeared in mourning because Jews had attacked Palestine. But in answer to the question: ‘Why did the manifestation of the mother of Virgin appear in Egypt specifically?’ his mother claimed it was because God loved Coptic Christian in particular. This film clearly conveys the message that man translates situations differently according to his own perspective by treating the theme of the incarnation of The Virgin.

He also reveals the process of filming. From time to time there were scenes where he suffered from lack of capital and he called his producer, asking for money for his movie in order to find his roots. Through filming his relatives in poverty and knowing about their life, he seems to find his roots. Later, he decided to shoot a short feature film on ‘Virgin manifestation’ instead of shooting a documentary. The film shows the process of shooting — from casting to providing aid as an acting coach. The mother sometimes interferes on the screen and also in the on-site management as a producer. However, she gave practical advice to Namir. She even went around the village with a cart while shouting on the megaphone ‘everybody should come in time’ to enlighten the people who did not appear on the set ready for filming.

The ending of the movie reveals the film’s key themes. Namir asked his mother, ‘Was it a real Virgin?’ She answered, “Whether it is Virgin Mary or not is not important. The thing is I believe it is.”

In Jean Baudrillard’s book, “The Simulacres et Simulation”, he said that God is simulation (simyulrasiong). God actually does not exist but we believe that God should exist. However, Slavoj Zizek said that “we know that god does not exist, acting like it does is the mystery of the Christianim.”

The film treats the somewhat heavy topic, ‘the reason for the existence of religion’ lightly and brightly with the character of his mum who is cheerful and positive (in certain aspects) and the process of tracking the truth, by showing the process of making the film. The more important message of this movie corresponds not only to religion but also to human life and society. Such things as ideology or practice itself exist in the need for human relevance. Although The Virgin, the Copts and Me was not awarded a FIPRESCI prize, which seeks to award films that create a feeling of something new and creative, I would still like to recommend this documentary.

© FIPRESCI 2012