“As the Poet Said”: A film about Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish

We attended our second screening at the TPFF last night, the film “As the Poet Said”, a lyrical documentary about Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008).  The film consisted of footage of the various places he’d lived and worked, with poets reading from his work, both in Arabic and in various translations, including Hebrew, French, English, Portugese, Kurdish, and Spanish.  The score was mainly piano and harp, both women improvising music based on his poetry.

It was clear in the 65 minutes that Darwish has had a huge influence, not only in the hearts of Palestinians, but also on poetry.  Readers included Jose Saramago, Michael Palmer, Dominique de Villepin, and Joumana Haddad.  One of the most moving moments in the film was a scene of a group of schoolgirls reciting “We have on this earth what makes life worth living”:

We have on this earth what makes life worth living
Mahmoud Darwish, 1986

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
April’s hesitation
The aroma of bread at dawn
A woman’s opinion of men
The works of Aeschylus
The beginning of love
Grass on a stone
Mothers living on a flute’s sigh and,
The invaders’ fear of memories

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
The final days of September
A woman leaving forty in full blossom*
The hour of sunlight in prison
A cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures
The peoples’ applause for those who face death with a smile
The tyrants’ fear of songs.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
On this earth, the lady of earth,
Mother of all beginnings
Mother of all ends.
She was called… Palestine.
Her name later became… Palestine.

My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.

*Alternate translation “A woman keeping her apricots ripe after forty.”

This was my first exposure to Darwish, and I plan to read more of his poetry.  Zouheir wants to get a book of his work in Arabic, but I will have to settle for an English translation.  This is, in fact, what made the film a little awkward for me.  While everything was subtitled, there is so much lost in trying to match the reader’s intonation and expression with the translation.  When I mentioned this to Zouheir, he confessed to closing his eyes from time to time so that he would not be distracted by the subtitles. 

This film was not so much a documentary but rather an homage to the life of Darwish.  We are not left with facts about him; not even his birth and death dates are presented.  Rather, we have a collage of his work on a backdrop of visuals from his wanderings and an intense score that seemed to capture the longing of his people.

I embed a trailer for the film that gives an idea of the experience. Note that the print that was screened had English subtitles.




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