Devi, Gayatri and Najat Rahman, eds.: "Humor in Middle Eastern Cinema."(Book review)

Author:Yunis, Alia
 
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Devi, Gayatri and Najat Rahman, eds. Humor in Middle Eastern Cinema. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 2014.

Just as the definition of comedy can be broadly interpreted, so too can be the definition of the Middle East. The collection of scholarly essays found in Humor in Middle Eastern Cinema extends the region from Turkey to Pakistan, with each chapter exploring one popular film maker, national cinema, or film. The essays analyze humor in film that makes one laugh, or at least smile, primarily with irony and sarcasm. Consisting of nine essays, with three dedicated to Iran, the book rarely explores broad, slapstick comedy, outside of an analysis of comic stereotypes of ethnic groups in Israeli cinema. Unlike the other nations' films, these stereotypes easily trigger comparisons to American comedies and their ethnic tropes, distancing Israel cinematically from its Arab and Muslim neighbors. What comes across through cinema is that Israel, which has its roots in Europe, does not suffer from the same threat to its nationhood as its Arab and Muslim neighbors. For example, Mara Matta, writing about the Indian film Tere bin Ladin, banned in Pakistan for poking fun at Pakistan's failed campaign against terrorism, says, "Allowing the common man to laugh at big men would deeply undermine the hegemony and cause a humanization-and thus weakening-of the sanctity of national and religious institutions" (p. 231).

Film also works to create a national identity in the absence of a government to do so, as in the case of the Palestinians. In her essay, Najat Rahman notes that dark humor seeps into most Palestinian dramas. She describes a character from the Palestinian fdm Paradise Now (2004) thus: "For Said, the forms of the violence that are imposed determine the struggle." This analysis could be extended to humor-the violence determines the humor. When the love interest asks Said what type of genre he likes in cinema, he answers "The kind that frustrates." She then asks, "Like what?" to which he responds, "Like life."

On a chapter on the Tunisian film The TV is Coming, Robert Lang reminds the reader that film does not overthrow regimes. "Laughter and erotic adventure are merely survival techniques," he writes. "As a real defense tyranny they are truly ineffectual." But The TV is Coming, made four years before Ben Ali's downfall, "throws down gauntlet" (p.73). "The never ending debate about national identity is framed as one between tradition...

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