The other night I went to a movie with two friends. We watched La Vierge, les Coptes et Moi. Both my friends are fluent in French, English and Spanish, so it wasn’t odd that we were watching a film in French and Arabic with English subtitles.
The film exposed some of the fascinating relationship between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. I was struck by how easily Namir Abdel Messeeh, the main character/director (the film is a pseudo-documentary) could engage with both Egyptian and French societies. Namir is of Coptic Christian background. In French, he could handle the fast-paced back and forth with his businesslike producer in France, making humorous excuses for his film’s production delays. He could also appreciate his mother’s joke about his project being ‘un film de merde‘ – a shit film.
Most striking was when Namir entered Egyptian society: he could communicate just as well in Arabic with the Egyptians. Aside from some Western idiosyncrasies (like his desire to go jogging) and Western clothing, he had no problem relating to the Egyptian people. The movie was full of moments of intersection between language and culture: When Namir is greeting his relatives in Egypt he knows what to say while embracing them with a hug and kisses.