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by Jay Seaver

"A conflict between carnality and spirituality should be much stronger."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: Congratulations, Usama Alshaibi. You've managed to make spiritualism, Islamic mythology, and kinky sex boring in one brief eighty-minute feature. That's quite an impressive accomplishment, considering that most of the movie doesn't seem interested in accomplishing much of anything.

Meet Muna (Manal Kara). She moved to the United States from Jordan for school when she was younger, but of late has not been studying. Instead, she's been working as a dominatrix in Chicago, partaking of alcohol and drugs and other forbidden things. She's also been hearing voices, and believes them to be her jinn, a sort of demon of smokeless fire, some of them assigned to individual humans to tempt them toward evil. She discusses this with her friend Mary (Molly Plunk) in the back of a cab, which leads to the driver, Ali (Dejan Mircea) befriending her and offering his assistance.

And... That's mostly it. Despite the early mention of jinns, this isn't really a supernatural thriller. There's a potentially interesting idea to be played with of Mary and Ali being opposing jinns for Muna, with Mary leading her toward the pleasures and temptations of the flesh while Ali represents a spiritual cleansing and perhaps romance. If that's writer/director Alshaibi's intention, though, it's weakly executed. There's never a real sense of Muna feeling conflicted, or there being any particular consequences if she moves in one direction or another.

Let it not be said, though, that Alshaibi does much to push one side or the other too strongly. As much as Ali tends to speak of Islam in terms of vague spirituality that isn't particularly convincing, the indulgences of Muna's current life seem just as flat. No matter what drugs Muna and her friends do, or what unusual sexual activity or domination they engage in, it doesn't come across as exciting, either as pure pleasure or transgression. It's ultimately just dull, a filmmaker pointing his camera at things and not doing anything to place them in context or convey the emotion of them.

The thing is, much of the audience will want to care about Muna. Manal Kara, while not a professional actor (although the sort of role-playing and domination she and the other dommes engage in is performance of a sort), does a good job of embodying Muna and her mindset - we see a young woman who wants to be a spiritual person without necessarily giving up any of her earthly pleasures. Everything about her Muna seems real and honest, and even those prone to judgment will likely see her as a flawed, but not irredeemable, person. Meanwhile, Dejan Mircea gives Ali a quite appealing sincerity. His crush on Muna is very charming; the audience can see him looking past the things which trouble him because he always wants to believe the best of her. A more conventional filmmaker might have put this potential romance front and center and gotten a decent movie out of it.

There's a reason that Alshaibi's works often play underground film festivals, though; he is not a conventional filmmaker. His credits indicate an artist more interested in poking at questions than using the medium to present a definitive point, and "Profane" certainly fits that profile. Sometimes, that can be fascinating, but this case, the uncertainty seemed less engaging than tedious.

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originally posted: 04/18/11 15:14:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Chicago Underground Film Festival For more in the 2011 Chicago Underground Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Usama Alshaibi

Written by
  Usama Alshaibi

  Manal Kara
  Molly Plunk
  Dejan Mircea

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