Since there is no subject outside language,
since language is what constitutes the subject through and through,
the separation of languages is a permanent grief.
Roland Barthes in “The Rustle of Language”
When, in the 1970s, Mustapha Akkad made a historico-religious costume movie evoking the birth and rise of Islam, one of his aims was to throw down a bridge to the West. One of a kind, the resulting film, The Message, is unusual in that it was made simultaneously in two distinct versions, in English and Arab, with two casts boasting big names from Hollywood cinema on one side (Anthony Quinn and Irène Papas) and the Arab movie industry on the other. Each scene was thus shot twice, both versions identical. A monument in the history of cinema that is well known in the Arab world and virtually unknown elsewhere, The Message constitutes a rigorous initiation into Islam which respects the aniconism of the Islamic tradition.
Fayçal Baghriche’s project was inspired by this curiosity of film history. Going beyond remakes or dubbed versions, the Franco-Algerian artist sets out to interweave the two versions in a montage that restores the film’s wholeness. Calibrated to the nearest millimetre, each scene is edited in such a way as to bring out the lines of force between characters, the dramatic assumptions, the narrative conventions and the linguistic structures. Beyond changes of tone that are often droll and sometimes surprising, the synthesis of these two versions makes it possible to switch around and recast the American and Arab actors, dialoguing in their respective languages. The subtitles thus afford a reading of this film redefined as a space of encounter between an Arab-Islamic world and a Western world understanding each other beyond the barriers of language, culture and religion.
Translated by Charles Penwarden