Original review featured on the Doha Film Institute website.
Oum Kalthoum, the “The Star of the East” is the most renowned and respected Arab singer to date. Decades after her death, her back catalogue still sells up to a million albums a year.
“Dananeer”, set in Iraq during the Abbasid era, is the third film to star Oum Kolthoum. This 1940 picture is based on the true story of a poor Bedouin girl called Dananeer, an extraordinary singer, who makes it to the castle of Harun Al Rashid because of her wonderful voice and exquisite talent. She is the concubine of a minister, Yehya, but the film shows that she also accompanies his son Jaafar.
On her discovery, Dananeer is encouraged to appreciate the arts and music. She is trained by Ishak El Musalli, a famous artist of the time. In the midst of all this, however, the Caliph turns against his adviser Jaafar and executes him, bringing about the end of the powerful family. According to the film, one of the main reasons for the Caliph turning against Jaafar is because of the adviser’s growing power in ruling the country.
Beautiful song from the film:
Dananeer weeps for the man who nourished her talent and changed her life. She is asked to sing for the Caliph after Jaafar’s execution and refuses, out of the loyalty to her former master. Her devotion gains the respect of the ruler and brings about her freedom. She becomes a symbol who is praised by poets. Artists are inspired to pay tribute her beauty and the power of her voice.
In “Dananeer”, Kalthoum performs eight songs written by Ahmad Rami. During her career, he presented her with nearly 140 songs, composed by Mohamad Al-Qasabgui, Zakariya Ahmed and Riyadh Al-Sonbati. Kolthoum offers some of her best musical performances in this film. The strength and beauty of her voice in “Dananeer” partly inspired Najeeb Mahfouz’s Nobel Prize winning novel “Khan Al Khalili” in which he describes her voice as “heavenly”.
With this classical masterpiece, we are introduced to the early career of the “The Star of the East”. The film also recounts the cultural glory of Baghdad, painted with Kalthoum’s soaring voice: “May your blessings endure…O Paradise on earth, heaven of security”.