Review: ‘His Only Son,’ starring Nicolas Mouawad, Sara Seyed, Edaan Moskowitz, Ottavio Taddei and Nicolai Perez

April 7, 2023

by Carla Hay

Edaan Moskowitz and Nicolas Mouawad in “His Only Son” (Photo courtesy of Angel Studios)

“His Only Son”

Directed by David Helling

Culture Representation: Taking place in ancient Canaan and Moriah, the dramatic film “His Only Son” features a white, Middle Eastern and Egyptian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class from Judeo-Christian teachings.

Culture Clash: Religious prophet Abraham travels to Moriah after he gets a command from God to prove his loyalty by sacrificing the life of Abraham’s son Isaac. 

Culture Audience: “His Only Son” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in faith-based movies that are dramatic movie versions of religious teachings.

Nicolas Mouawad and Edaan Moskowitz in “His Only Son” (Photo courtesy of Angel Studios)

“His Only Son” is a worthy, low-budget drama about religious figure Abraham, when he was called by God to make his greatest sacrifice: the life of his son. The depiction of Abraham’s troubled marriage gives this reverent movie some grit. “His Only Son” is a mixed bag, with some acting performances and technical aspects that are better than other acting performances and technical aspects in the movie. However, viewers who are inclined to watch faith-based films will probably find a lot to like about this earnest movie.

Written and directed by David Helling, “His Only Son” is truly a passion project, since Helling decided to become a filmmaker so he could make this movie and other movies about religious figures from the Christian Bible. Helling has said the production budget for “His Only Son” was only $250,000. That low budget can be seen in the movie’s hairstyling (wigs and fake beards that look cheap) and the small number of locations and cast members in the film. However, the movie’s cinematography is often striking, visually creative, and on par with movies that have production costs that are 100 times higher than what it cost to make “His Only Son.”

People who already know the story of Abraham’s journey from his land of Canaan (where he is the leader) to Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac won’t find any surprises in “His Only Son,” regarding the outcome of this journey. The movie also has faithful depictions of the Judeo-Christian teachings of Abraham frequently having visions where he communicates with God and gets commands and prophecies from God. What might surprise people is how the movie portrays how all of these visions took a serious toll on Abraham’s marriage.

“His Only Son” frequently shows flashbacks of Abraham’s life while Abraham (played by Nicolas Mouawad) goes on the journey to Moriah with Isaac and two other young men from Canaan: loyal Kelzar (played by Ottavio Taddei) and skeptical Eshcolam (played by Nicolai Perez, also know as Reji Lukai). Kelzar is son of Abraham’s chief servant Eliezer (played by Luis Fernandez-Gil), who offered Kelzar to be a part of this travel group.

The trip to Moriah takes three days by walking. “His Only Son” has a subplot about this group facing a moral dilemma concerning a severely wounded man (played by Matthew Dorio) and his kidnapped young adult daughter (played by Alexandria Lior), who have been attacked by four marauders (played by Kevin Kapellas, Steve Judkins, Nathan Tetreault and Mario Dagget). “His Only Son” doesn’t make too much of a detour in this subplot, but it seems like it was put in the movie to fill up time and so the story would have some action-oriented suspense.

The flashbacks to Abraham’s life go as far as back 40 years before he took this journey to Moriah. Abraham has been having visions of God (played by Daniel da Silva), who promised Abraham that he would rule over Canaan and pass on this legacy to his children. The problem is that Abraham’s wife Sarah (played Sara Seyed) has spent several years of their marriage trying to get pregnant, to no avail. Canaan’s barren land has made the couple’s financial future very insecure. And so, at Sarah’s urging, Abraham and Sarah move to Egypt for more fruitful land.

As the years go by and Sarah still appears to be infertile, she becomes tired of Abraham telling her to be patient. Abraham repeatedly reminds Sarah that God told Abraham that Abraham would have a son. Sarah begins to panic when she approaches the age range when most women are menopausal. She thinks the prophecy that Abraham will have a son is God’s way of saying that Abraham will have a child with another woman, so she offers her maid Hagar (played by Eta Pico) to be Abraham’s other “wife.”

Sarah regrets the decision after Hagar gets pregnant. Sarah is angry and ashamed, because she thinks that she has lost respect from Hagar and others in the community who know about this arrangement. Sarah verbally lashes out at Abraham for accepting Sarah’s insistent offer to get another woman pregnant so that Abraham can have an heir. Abraham isn’t wrong when he reminds Sarah that it was all her idea for him to impregnant Hagar, because Sarah lost faith that Sarah would get pregnant.

It’s not spoiler information to say that Sarah gets pregnant and gives birth to Isaac. It’s necessary to mention that information in this review because “His Only Son” mishandles the subplot about Hagar getting pregnant. Hagar and her pregnancy are not seen or mentioned in the movie again after Sarah gives birth to Isaac. It’s a plot hole that ignores the religious teaching that Hagar gave birth to Abraham’s first son Ishmael, who lived to a very old age. Therefore, it’s not entirely accurate to name this movie “His Only Son.”

As the Abraham character, Mouawad gives a solid performance in portraying someone with strong faith that still gets tested. Seyed’s depiction of Sarah can get a tad too melodramatic, but she’s a scene stealer who grounds the movie in the realism that it would not be easy to be married to a prophet who claims to have a direct line of communication with God. It’s also refreshing that “His Only Son” does not portray all of the women in the film as passive or subservient to men (as many Bible-oriented movies tend to do), since Sarah has a very strong-willed and opionionated personality. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles.

“His Only Son” occasionally plods along at a dull pace. And some of the dialogue is terribly simplistic. However, the main characters are compelling, and the movie does a very good job of showing people’s different perspectives of what it means to have “faith in God.” Helling also admirably didn’t try to make these characters sound British or American (another historical inaccuracy that many Bible-based movies have) and instead had the characters in “His Only Son” talk with historically accurate Hebrew or Egyptian accents. It’s a movie that certainly makes the most out of its low budget and delivers a capable story about one of the most lauded religious figures of all time.

Angel Studios released “His Only Son” in U.S. cinemas on March 31, 2023.

Review: ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing,’ starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton

August 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)

“Three Thousand Years of Longing”

Directed by George Miller

Some language in Hellenic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Turkey, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, the fantasy film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Asian) as human beings and magical beings representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Djinn (also known as a genie) is set free from a bottle by a loner middle-aged divorcée from the United Kingdom, and he tells her stories of how he was trapped inside the bottle at various times over 3,000 years. 

Culture Audience: “Three Thousand Years of Longing” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, filmmaker George Miller and adult-oriented fantasy movies.

Tilda Swinton in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (Photo by Elise Lockwood/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is not as weird and edgy as the movie’s trailer would suggest. It’s a sometimes-rambling yet visually striking adult-oriented fairy tale about a genie and the stories he tells to the scholarly divorcée who frees him from a bottle. The film is not a masterpiece, but it’s entertaining enough for people who can engage with a fantasy movie that’s more about storytelling than about fast-paced action scenes.

Directed by George Miller (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Augusta Gore), “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is based on A. S. Byatt’s 1994 novel “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.” Although the movie is narrated by British scholar Alithea Binnie (played by Tilda Swinton), viewers will learn a lot more about the electromagnetic genie called the Djinn (played by Idris Elba) whom Alithea accidentally releases from a bottle. That’s because almost the entire movie is about the Djinn telling Alithea about three major times in his life that he was imprisoned in a bottle.

In the beginning of the movie, she says in a voiceover: “My name is Alithea. My story is true. You’re more likely to believe me if I tell you it’s a fairy tale.” Swinton is quite good in the role of Alithea, but she’s portrayed many uptight and quirky British women before in other movies, her work in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is just more of the same, but not as quick-tempered and unhinged as some of her other eccentric characters in other films.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” opens with Alithea (who lives in London) arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, for a storytelling conference. (“Three Thousand Years of Longing” was actually filmed in Australia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.) In addition to being a scholar, Alithea is an enthusiast of fantasy storytelling. Ever since she was a child, she had an active imagination and kept journals of her fantasy writings and illustrations.

A flashback in the movie shows how Alithea at about 10 or 11 years old (played by Alyla Browne) as a social outcast at her all-girls boarding school. During her childhood, Alithea had an imaginary male creature friend named Enzo (played by Abel Bond) that she wrote about and drew in her journals. Alithea could see and hear Enzo but no one else could. Enzo would often comfort her when she was feeling lonely and sad. Don’t expect to find out anything about Alithea’s family, except to know that she has no siblings.

Now in her late 50s or early 60s, Alithea is now a professor of narratology who has been divorced since she was in her 30s. She’s still a loner who writes and draws in journals what comes up in her vivid imagination. Alithea also still sees visions of various magical creatures that look real to her, but no one else can see them.

For example, when she arrives at the airport, she sees a short, odd-looking man who tries to help her carry her suitcase, but she refuses, and he disappears into the crowd. When Alithea tells a male professor colleague (who’s sharing a car ride with her) about this strange experience, she describes the unusual man as “hot to the touch” and “musky.” Alithea’s colleague suggests that she might have seen a ghost.

Alithea is one of the speakers at the conference, where she says that stories about mythical gods have been a part of human hstory for ages. (In the background on the conference stage is a collage portrait of comic book superheroes, to illustrate her point.) During her speech, Alithea sees in the audience a vision of ghost-like elderly man wearing all white in an ancient royal outfit, including a crown.

Suddenly, this mystery spirit lunges at Alithea. And the next thing she knows, she’s being woken up by people on the conference stage because she’s been told that she fainted. Alithea has no memory of passing out. And she insists that she’s feeling perfectly fine.

In her hotel room, Alithea takes out a blue-and-white stripped bottle that looks like a perfume bottle. A brief flashback show that she purchased the bottle at trinket shop in an Instanbul bazaar. The bottle had burn marks on it, but that just makes her more interested in buying. “I like it,” she tells the shop owner. “I’m sure it has an interesting story.”

Alithea takes a toothbrush to try to rub off some of the burn marks. And that’s when the Djinn come out of the bottle, in clouds of purple smoke. At first, the Djinn appears in giant form, but eventually, he shrinks himself down to the form of a human. He begins speaking to her in Hellelnic (a language that Alithea knows), btu then eventually spends the rest oft he time talking to Alithea in her native English language. Alithea is convinced that that the Djinn is part of her imagination, but the more he talks to her, the more she’s convinced that he’s real.

The Djinn essentially says that he’s been trapped in the bottle for nearly 200 years. And in order for him to gain eternal freedom, he tells Alithea that he must grant three wishes to her. There are some caveats to these wishes. She cannot wish for eternal wishes or anything that would end suffering. Her wishes must also be heartfelt and sincere, not taken as a joke, in order for the wishes to really come true.

Alithea insists to the Djinn that she’s perfectly content with her life and doesn’t have any wishes. She has no loved ones and is happy with her job. Alithea only opens up about her her past experiences with love and heartbreak when she briefly tells him about her lonely childhood and her divorce. It’s the only glimpse into Alithea’s personal life.

Alithea was married to her college sweetheart Jack (played by Peter Bertoni, in a flashback scene) for a period of time that appears to be less than 10 years. Alithea and Peter had many things in common, and she thought that they were soul mates. At one point, Alithea got pregnant and was far-enough along in the pregnancy that she knew she was going to have a boy. Alithea and Jack were going to name the child Enzo.

All of this information can be deduced from a brief flash of a pregnancy test vial showing a positive test result. Alithea had kept this pregnancy test vial as a memento in a scrapbook and had written the name Enzo on the vial. When Alithea tells the Djinn about her marriage, she never goes into details about happened to this pregnancy.

However, it’s implied that she had a miscarriage, since the child is never seen in the flashbacks. Alithea says that she and Jack eventually drifted apart (with the implication that the loss of the child was a big reason why), and they got divorced. Jack eventually married a younger woman named Emmaline Porter (played by Lianne Mackessey), and Alithea has seen the happy couple together in London on at least one occasion.

The Djinn has his own stories of loss and heartbreak to tell. His first story of being imprisoned in the bottle is about when he was the servant/lover of Africa’s Queen of Sheba (played by Aamito Lagum), who did not love the Djinn in the way that the Djinn loved her. A love triangle developed when a visiting king named Solomon (played by Nicolas Mouawad) began courting the queen. You can easily guess how this love triangle ended.

The Djinn’s second story of being “incarcerated” in a bottle takes place in the 1530s, during the rule of Turkey’s Ottomon Empire. The story begins with a destitute and enslaved young woman named Ezgi (played Pia Thunderbolt) releasing the Djinn from a bottle. The Djinn grants Ezgi’s wish to marry Prince Mustafa (played by Matteo Bocelli), who is next in line to inherit the kingdom.

However, a power struggle breaks out between Prince Mustafa, his younger brother Ibrahim (played by Jack Braddy) and their father Sultan Suleiman (played by Lachy Hulme). Ibrahim has a sexual fetish for plus-sized women. One of the women in Ibrahim’s harem plays a role in Djinn’s fate.

The Djinn’s third story is supposed to be the most impactful, but it’s the most underdeveloped and seems too rushed in the movie. In this story (which takes place in the mid-19th century in Turkey), the Djinn talks about Zefir (played by Burcu Gölgedar), a woman whom Djinn describes as perhaps the greatest love of his life. The Djinn says that he loved Zefir more than he loved the Queen of Sheba.

At the age of 12 years old, Zefir was forced to marry a Turkish merchant, whose name is not mentioned in the movie. This merchant is old enough to be Zefir’s grandfather. Zefir is the merchant’s third wife in his harem. His other two wives, who are close to the merchant’s age, are very jealous of Zefir and treat her like an outsider. A lonely Zefir eventually finds the bottle where the Djin was kept and frees him.

All three of the Djinn stories involve a woman freeing him from a bottle and some kind of power struggle that ensues. Djinn describes himself in his relationships as loyal and accommodating. And he is that way with Alithea too, but only after she begins to trust him. He can be impatient with Alithea when she’s indecisive about if or when she wants to make a wish.

Because the movie reveals up front that Djinn’s three stories are about how he got trapped in a bottle on three separate occasions, viewers aleady know that each story will not end well for the Djinn. And therefore, the movie’s only real question that needs to be answered is: “What will Ailthea’s wish for, if she chooses to make any or all of the three wishes?”

Alithea thinks that all stories about wishes are “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tales, so she’s afraid of making any wish that could be a big mistake. Through the Djinn’s stories, she starts to understand that life can be a very dull existence if risks aren’t taken. Alithea also learns that it’s not always selfish to ask for what you want.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” has the look of an ambitious fantasy film, but thankfully is only 108 minutes long. The visual effects and cinematography are well-done, and the acting is perfectly fine from all involved. However, the movie is not without its flaws.

The three stories are unevenly paced to the importance each story has to the Djinn’s life. The second story that takes place during the Ottoman Empire should have been shortened and the time used to expand more on the third story about the Djinn’s relationship with Zefir. There’s not much in the movie to show why Djinn considers his relationship with Zefir to be a great love affair.

Zefir and the Djinn are not shown connecting on any emotional level. The Djinn essentially does what Zefir wants, including making himself disappear, especially when her husband is around. And, as previously mentioned, Alithea remains a bit of a mystery throughout the entire. The only other insight into Alithea’s personal life is when she returns to London and shows disgust for the racial and ethnic bigotry expressed by two nosy, elderly women who live in the house next door.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is not going to appeal to people who are expecting any comedic moments. It’s a brooding movie that’s not overly intense or gory, but it’s far from being lighthearted and whimsical. It’s probably one of the most serious-minded gene movies you’ll ever see, Viewers might get some enjoyment out of the acting and the storytelling format of the movie, which has a timeless message about valuing love, no matter where and when someone exists.

United Artists Releasing/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Three Thousand Years of Longing” in U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022. The movie is set for release in Australia on September 1, 2022.

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