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A film that attempts to tell an important story - and one so rarely addressed in film and mainstream culture that it should be celebrated for its existence. Where A Sinner In Mecca fails is in its determination to achieve its singular aim. The film is at times touching, and sometimes borders on poigniancy, but struggles with the heavy handed delivery of its core message. In relying too much on Western narratives of Islam as shorthand its depiction of the world filmmaker Pavez Sharma inhabits is shallow and loses much of the nuance and context that a truly incredible film could have achieved.
A beautiful documentary that opened my eyes. This is the power of film.
A Sinner In Mecca: Just like his own experiences as a openly gay Muslim, Parvez Sharma's documentary about his pilgrimage to Mecca is equally conflicted. On one hand, it is a rare, demystifying glimpse for non-Muslims inside the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that Islam's most devout are expected to take at least once in their lifetime. Braving entry to Saudi Arabia, a country where homosexuals are executed, Sharma's hidden smartphone reveals that the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, stands just a few hundred feet from an enormous shopping mall, where pilgrims can also worship capitalism and buy coffee at Starbucks. It shows pilgrims sleeping on the ground at Islam's holiest destination, surrounded by filthy, heaping mounds of garbage, and shows that the path for another of the hajj rituals (walking seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah) is now an air conditioned, enclosed corridor - hardly inspirational or spiritual. These surreal travelogue images of the physically grueling hajj and Sharma's criticism of this strict Saudi interpretation of Islam are when the film is most interesting. Where it doesn't work is when Sharma attempts to create drama, such as the hokey opening fantasy sequence of the film, when his bathing water is made to look like blood, or during his self-indulgent description of the strained relationship with his now-deceased, homophobic mother, or his trip to India to kill a goat (another hajj ritual) after the Saudis run out of goats during his visit to Mecca. Banal cliches aside, the film is still an interesting look at the hajj, warts and all, that is worth seeing. B-
A sinner among worse sinners, more like it...