have to admire the balls of director Usama Alshaibi. His film
Profane is a secular, insiders critique of the
narrow religious dogma of Islam and an exploration of how a young
Muslim woman in America tries to connect her religious (and repressive)
upbringing with the social and sexual freedoms she now enjoys.
It’s a film that is aptly named, with images and ideas that
might seem sacrilegious to believers, and it’s hardly going
to win him many friends. Aside from the fact that criticising
Islam is something that has been proven to be dangerous, even
deadly, for artists (as Theo Van Gogh discovered to his cost),
there are plenty of Western commentators who will be quick to
label someone as racist or islamophobic for producing something
so deliberately ‘blasphemous’ and confrontational
– the fact that the artist is question is a Muslim rarely
making any difference to such dogmatic critics.Add to that the
transgressive and unapologetic sexuality of the film, and you
have a recipe for outrage.
Alshaibi’s film follows Muna (Manal Kara), a young woman
who is working as a pro-domme in the sex industry, having formerly
dabbled in prostitution. She drinks, takes drugs, has casual sex
and gee rally behaves like a liberated Westerner, but she is also
interested in exploring her Islamic roots, without losing her
identity to religion. A meeting with devout taxi driver Ali (Dejan
Mircea) seems to offer a way forward, but it soon becomes clear
that his narrow and rigid interpretation of his religion is not
going to work for Muna.
Inspired by his own childhood, Alshaibi brings us a character
who has been abused in the name of religion (beaten for not memorising
the Qur’an properly, forced to undergo exorcisms to rid
her of her sexual desires) and who wants to explore that religion
without committing to the extremes of it – a conflict between
her upbringing and her intellect that begins to manifest in the
form of Jinn – the demon that is said in Muslim mythology
to reside within each of us. The question is, is the Jinn the
result of her secular life, or because of her religious indoctrination
that teaches her that her life of sex and pleasure is sinful?
is a mix of filmmaking styles, mixing pseudo documentary and interview
footage with non-linear narrative and moments of surrealism, all
liberally sprinkled with pretty graphic sex scenes – all
too authentic thanks to the use of genuine submissives for the
BDSM scenes. Kara is striking as the conflicted Muna – not
just physically (though that too), but giving a performance that
feels genuine. Molly Plunk as her coked-out dome partner (and
possible girlfriend) Mary is convincing too as a character who
is pretty hard to like, while Mircea is excellent as the devout
character who eventually represents the control and repression
that Muna is trying to escape from.
The improvised dialogue, cut-up editing, graphic sex and heretical
nature will ensure that Profane is not for everyone.
But if you’ve ever had a conflict between a religious upbringing
and a secular, intellectual and (by religious standards) decadent
lifestyle, you’ll probably find much in this film that speaks
This challenging film has an extra 20 minutes of outtakes and
other footage on the DVD, including longer BDSM scenes that would
fit within any fetish video, and the director interviewed, his
face understandably blanked out. Because as we know, religious
fanatics of all stripes rarely take criticism well.
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