December 13, 2007 / 7:22 AM / 10 years ago

Arab film brings bellydancing, not bin Laden to West

<p>A bellydancer performs at an oriental dance festival in Cairo June 28, 2007. REUTERS/Nasser Nuri</p>

DUBAI (Reuters) - No bombs. No bloodshed. No bin Laden. Belly dancing is the theme Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch says can best communicate the Arab world to the West and reconcile cultural differences.

“Whatever Lola Wants,” Ayouch’s story of an American woman who encounters Arab life through belly dancing lessons, premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival this week, impressing many critics.

“I think belly dancing is one of the two things that the Americans and the Occidentals know most about the Arab world, along with bin Laden,” Ayouch told Reuters.

“It’s so much better to give the image of the Arab world through belly dancing than Osama bin Laden... it’s all a question of misunderstanding and it’s not because we are different, we can’t talk or understand each other.”

In the Hollywood-inspired feature, New York postal worker Lola, played by Laura Ramsey, falls in love with a handsome Egyptian, played by the Moroccan Assaad Bouab.

When they break up, she decides to travel to Egypt to win him back, but instead finds herself pursuing a deeper passion: dancing.

Having been introduced to the sensual art by an Egyptian friend in the United States, she meets the legendary but fallen belly dancer Ismahan, played by Carmen Lebbos, during her expedition to Cairo.

Lola convinces Ismahan to teach her, and the two women develop a relationship of self-discovery and redemption.

“It’s not a film about belly dancing, which is just an organic link in the film, but it’s about an exchange; one giving a passion for dance and the other, a passion for life,” Ayouch explained.

Co-written with Jane Hawksley, the movie is the director’s first venture into Hollywood-style English-language cinema.

Born and raised in Paris, Ayouch is renowned for “Ali Zaoua, prince de la rue” (Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Street), a powerful portrayal of Casablanca street children, which won an award at the Amiens International Film Festival in France.

Ayouch hopes Lola will make it in Hollywood.

“I want the American people to see this film because I want them to get the chance to know another side of the Arab people,” Ayouch said.

“Most of the movies I have seen in America about the Arab world are always talking about the same matters -- terrorism, bombings, arms, fighting -- but what Lola carries back with her to New York is belly dancing.”

Editing by Lin Noueihed

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