Syriana, another cop-out

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I have seen the movie Syriana twice, and although I did not love it, I did appreciate the film. I thought that it did a good job of portraying the complicated and intricate interrelations amongst various political and economic interests that make up the U.S. Middle Eastern policies (as well as the local politics).

Nevertheless, I was recently talking about this film with a friend and learned that, unforntunately, it is just another Hollywood sell-out, and an example of tinseltown’s hypocracy. Let me explain.

I just read this article that discusses how the movie was filmed and how George Clooney learned to speak Arabic for the role to maintain authenticity.

‘It was important to all of us that the Arabs in this movie be portrayed as realistically as possible,’ explains producer Georgia Kacandes. ‘We were sensitive to the fact that people’s language is a point of pride to them and we wanted to show that respect to the Arabic people who would be watching this movie. Otherwise, it would be like having someone who’s supposed to be from Brooklyn speak with an accent from Mississippi. At the very least, it takes you out of the reality of the movie; at worst it makes it appear the filmmakers didn’t care about the people they were representing.’

It is understandable that the movie, for various reasons, not be shot in all of the original locations. So, for example, the scenes that are supposed to take place in Beirut or in Tehran are actually all shot in Casablanca, Morocco. But after reading the above quote, would you be suprised not even the Arabic accurately depicted the location? Yep, the Arabic that was supposed to be spoken by the Lebanese characters was really Moroccan Arabic; in other words it was like a character from Brooklyn speaking with a Mississippi accent.

Worse yet, Moroccan Arabic is very different from Lebanese, so much so that many Lebanese would have trouble understanding the Moroccan Arabic spoken in the film. Not only that, but the music in the background was traditional Moroccan music, having absolutely nothing to do with Lebanese music. It is like having Mexican actors with Mexican accents pretending to be Spaniards and listening to a Marriachi band.

Finally, George Clooney’s Arabic was nothing more than mumbling sounds that meant absolutely nothing. He wasn’t saying anything. Just bla bla bla. It’s one thing to simply speak the language poorly. Robert Dinero’s accent in Italian in the Godfather II is pretty horrendous, but at least it’s Italian and not made up words.

So, here you have another example of a Hollywood film that assumes that the mass Western market will never notice the difference, so we mind as well just lump all Arab people into the same bag as of one nationality, mentality, and as an indistinguishable mix. Or as we can conclude from the producer’s own words above, he didn’t care much about the people he was representing.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Syriana, another cop-out

  1. TheCommentKiller

    I am not a fan of the director. the movie is good, but would have better as a documentary.
    My complaints about the movie are that it was a bit difficult to follow and there were too many sub-plots, and they tried too hard to get them all to connect in the end. (Lots of uncalled for whispering and low-talking, I think that just a some actors think squinting is acting, they also seem to think whispering is acting)

    Anyway

  2. Yasmine

    Hi!

    I ve also spent most of the movie joking about the language and the choice of locations. And even the music! It’s always the same problem and it drives me nuts… especially when the producer claims that it is supposed to be close to reality… It clearly shows that there are no efforts to understand the differences and varieties of culture, language, history etc. that you find in the Arab World. “It s all the same”.

    But, if I remember well, the Arabic that was spoken by the actors wasn’t exactly the Moroccan dialect. That would have been tooo much. Some of the actors were clearly maghrebinian actors speaking a kind of formal Arabic (the one you usually read and write) but with Moroccan (or lets say maghrebinian) intonation. This means that Lebanese people should definitely be able to understand it. But this also means that it sounds suuuper weird…
    I think that George Clooney is really trying to speak Arabic and I guess there was even a script for that but it is just incomprehensible! I thought they had people in Hollywood who are supposed to teach you how to properly pronounce sounds…

  3. eric

    Yasmine,

    Thanks for your comments. These guys are really cynical. If you read the article, the “language” coach talks about how he trained both the Arabs (mainly actors of Arabic origin from the States and UK who do not speak Arabic) and non-Arabs in Arabic. It is all so very silly, especially how the actors think they are such great artists simply because they put on some extra weight and made a half-assed effort of learning to pronounce words in a different language.

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