Manal Kara, Molly Plunk, Dejan Mircea
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
NR (Equiv. to "R")
20 Mins. of extra footage and trailer
There's a cinematic mastery lying at the very core of Profane, a feature-length film from Iraqi-American director Usama Alshaibi that is both transcendent and transgressive. The film centers around Muna (Manal Kara), a Muslim dominatrix in the midst of a spiritual crisis. Muna has lived a life exploiting her cultural uniqueness as both a prostitute and a dominatrix, yet she finds herself at a point in life where she wants to reconnect with the essence of who she is as a woman and as a Muslim.
The only problem?
She appears to be unable to re-connect with her own truth. Alshaibi, whose films tend to travel across the cinematic spectrum from stunningly intelligent to amazingly intimate to those bordering on shocking, somehow manages to infuse all these things into this remarkable little film.
Profane experienced quite a bit of success on the underground film festival circuit including wins for Best Experimental Feature at the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival, Best Feature Film at Boston Underground Film Festival and Best International Feature at Sexy International Film Festival. It's a shame that all of the major awards are so afraid of truly visionary filmmaking because, quite honestly, there have been very few foreign language films as bold and awesomely realized as Profane this past year.
Kara portrays Muna masterfully by refusing to peel away the layers of her complex persona. Profane isn't a film for the casual moviegoer, because it requires active listening and participation. Kara's Muna is detached from herself and those around her, while Alshaibi creates the same distance between his characters and the audience. If this were an American film, it would most likely be comparable to that of the Coen Brothers, strangely enough, who are masters at creating stories and characters that draw you in because they don't necessarily try to do so. On a less religious level, Profane also brings to mind Michael Fassbender's performance in last year's dark and despairing Shame. Muna is surrounded by both internal and external conflicts that simultaneously induce and reduce her shame. She speaks of having gained control by changing from a prostitute to a dominatrix, yet her work as a dominatrix feels like a deepening of the cycles in her life that she cannot control. Her relationships, even amongst those she considers her friends, are largely abusive yet somehow they also sustain her.
Muna spends much of her time with Mary (Molly Plunk), her best friend and domination partner. Their relationship, seemingly like everything for Muna, is one that is filled with both dominance and submission. Molly Plunk is electrifying as Mary, a vibrant and brash young woman who speaks her mind and follows her passions. Muna clearly admires her, perhaps envying her personality or projecting it onto herself, yet it's also clear that Mary is also a negative influence and may be keeping Muna from the return to spirituality that she so deeply desires.
Dejan Mircea is terrific as Ali, a cab driver who befriends both Mary and Muna and who attempts to help steer them in a different direction. As is true for all of Muna's relationships, this relationship is filled with conflicts yet may actually be the most positive influence in her life.
The original music by Ehsan Ghoreishi is haunting and deeply felt, while Alshaibi's camera work is at times stunning in its intimacy and its heartbreak. While it may seem absurd to mention in a film with so much nudity (and there's a lot!), Maha Moda deserves kudos for her costume design here.
Profane has been picked up by MVD Visual for a home video release and is definitely worth a view for those with a taste for more experimental and visionary cinema. By no means appropriate for the easily offended or timid, Profane may very well both offend you and invade your senses. Easily one of the most impactful and honest films about human sexuality in recent years, Profane is nothing short of profound.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic