In the early stages of the production of the film, Messeeh’s producer asked the director, „so what is this film is about? The Virgin? The Copts? Or you?“ The title says it all – Messeeh’s debut film is a piece of everything. The idea for the documentary is born when, one Christmas, a relative brings a video tape allegedly capturing the apparition of the Virgin Mary. Messeeh, born in Egypt and raised in France in a family of Copts, does not see anything remarkable on the tape. His mother, however, shouts out, “there she is!” Messeeh, stunned at this, realises – there is a topic here. And so begins the quest of Namir Abdel Messeeh. It takes him to Cairo, where he seeks out witnesses of one of the most famous apparitions of the Virgin in 1968. But the undertaking proves more difficult than expected – nobody comes forward with juicy information. Without a real documentary subject, he has now lost his producer’s financial support. So Messeeh returns to the village of his relatives, poor farmers living in the North of Egypt that he hasn’t been seen in decades. His mother has decided to come and join her son, and help him financially with the project that she describes as “un film de merde” - a shit film. Meesseh is certain that the only way to finalise the film is to recreate an apparition of the Virgin. The villagers agree to what they first perceive as haram – to act out the apparition of their Holy Virgin Mary. And so, what started out as an idea for a factual documentary on apparitions evolves into a personal film about filmmaking and family, and ends with a hilarious re-enactment that recalls Pasolini’s Curd Cheese (La Ricotta).
Somewhere between documentary and fiction, between reportage and essai, Messeeh approaches his filmmaking in an extremely humorous, honest tone. He creates a direct link between himself and the audience, using voice-over to narrate his journey and a refreshingly self-deprecating stance on the whole enterprise. Although he touches upon many issues that would be worth going into (what it means to leave the home country, religion, family, financial differences between relatives), his film does not pretend to be philosophical, or serious, or deep. What could have been a deeply reflexive piece is a funny, light film with the best kind of humour, the one that excludes no one.
Whatever story we might tell, it is all about how we say it. In The Virgin, The Copts and Me, Messeeh has hit the right tone. His simple, yet innovate story telling questions the oh so blurry border between documentary and fiction, between autobiographical and abstract. This really is a festival film that one doesn’t stumble upon very often- and it is a very jolly stumble.
by Mara Klein