July 20, 2007, - 1:21 pm

“David & Layla”: Kurdish Director is Better Than This Silly Muslim-Jewish Relationship Flick

By Debbie Schlussel
After meeting and interviewing sympathetic, peaceful Kurdish writer/director Jalal “Jay” Jonroy and charming star Shiva Rose, I feel a little bad panning “David & Layla,” their movie out in theaters, today. But not too bad.
Jay’s heart is in the right place and his movie bears no ill will to Jews (even though his movie portrays otherwise), nor does he have any love for extremist Muslims. I enjoyed speaking with him about Kurdish life, Iraq’s President Jalal Talibani, and people of Kurdish descent here in Detroit. He’d do well to make a movie about those things.

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But his fictional movie is silly, outrageous, and far beneath this charming, intelligent man of many talents. I found it offensive, even though I know he did not mean it this way. I hope and expect he’ll do better with his next effort. He is a serious man who writes well, but he would be better suited to drama and documentary, not comedy.
The movie, about a Kurdish Muslim immigrant whose parents were killed by Saddam Hussein, is yet another one of those absurd Kumbaya, can’t-we-all-just-get-along movies. David is a Jewish man who hosts a cable show interviewing people on the street about their love and sex lives. He has a stereotypical Jewish American Princess fiancee, a stereotypical, close-minded, prejudiced Jewish American Princess mother, and a stereotypical Jewish American father who is sex-obsessed and visits a prostitute. That he gets a testicle paralysis of sorts while visiting the prostitute doesn’t make the movie any more entertaining. If anything, it makes this movie as groan-worthy as the slightly-more-funny (as in not very) “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” also in theaters, today.
David (played by David Moscow, who we saw as the kid version of Tom Hanks in “Big”–I liked him far better there, as a kid who is mostly absent and with little dialogue) falls in love with Layla, who is in America living with her kind, lovely Kurdish aunt and uncle in New York. Since she is about to be deported, they want to marry her off to a wealthy Muslim doctor she does not love. David eventually convinces her to date him.
In the end, David converts to Islam, they raise their kid Muslim and Jewish, and at the Passover Seder, the family agrees with Layla’s request that they wish peace upon the Palestinian people and say, “Next Year in Palestine.” The end.
If this encapsulation of the movie disgusts you, guess what? Teh move disgusted me, too. Meeting the director and hearing the more benign viewpoint from which he comes gives a more positive perspective, but that’s irrelevant because it doesn’t come off on-screen. I know, for example, that, for the most part, Kurds don’t care about “Palestine” and “Palestinians.” They are mostly moderate Muslims, who are largely very pro-Israel and philo-Semitic, as there were many Kurdish Jews living among them in Iraq. Kurds helped ferry out many Jews to freedom in Israel taking them over the mountains to then-Shah-controlled Iran. And they identified with Jews in their struggle against Saddam Hussein. (Though, some of that may have changed now that the Kurds–at least Mr. Talibani–are part of the anti-Semitic Al-Maliki Shia government now atop Iraq.)
That they would suddenly dislike Jews or that they are typical of other Muslims is absurd. When I asked Jay Jonroy about this, he admitted that I was right. “But then there would be no movie,” he told me. So, for drama’s–actually silly comedy’s–sake, this was necessary? Jay, you can do better. Jonroy said the movie was based on a real-life marriage between Jewish and Kurdish friends of his in Paris. But I doubt their relationship was as absurd and graphically sex-obsessed (a common anti-Semitic stereotype) as takes place here. I asked about this. And Jonroy said he put the never-ceasing, depraved sex obsession in as humor. Sorry, not funny.
I was also charmed by Shiva Rose (“Layla”), the beautiful, talented Iranian-born actress who happens to be married to left-wing actor Dylan McDermott. She and her family escaped Iran when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power, as they were a non-observant Muslim family with interests in the arts with a bleak future under Sharia (her maternal grandmother was a Jew, and so, by Jewish law, she’d be Jewish). Still, Rose, too, is better than this movie, in which she is relegated to mostly a dancer who opens for a belly dancer. Frankly, her real-life story is far more interesting. And I’d love to see that.
Some positive things: I liked the opening scenes, contrasting Jewish and Muslim New York neighborhoods, with Klezmer and Middle-Eastern music woven together. And the Kurdish wedding scene–after which David breaks the traditional Jewish glass, showing he still knows he is a Jew–was an improvement over other scenes. Still, this one didn’t work for me. And you won’t like it, either.
Like I said, I feel bad giving this movie a bad review. But not so bad. It’s yet another attempt at moral equivalency that doesn’t work . . . or ring true. Embarrassing–and painful–to sit through.

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9 Responses

“…they raise their kid Muslim and Jewish…”
Aww, geez, I wonder how they explained to the kid Koran 4:46, 5:51, 9:30? Or in the Bukhari’s hadith 52:176 – “Allah’s Apostle said, “You (i.e. Muslims) will fight wi the Jews till some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, ‘O ‘Abdullah (i.e. slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.’ ”

Witch-king of Angmar on July 20, 2007 at 2:15 pm

I was under the impression that Kurds were non-islamic, and oppressed by the Turks.
But I’ve since learned, Kurds are also islamics. (spit spit)
The movie is out of touch with reality, because no islamic would ever allow their females to marry outside. They would butcher the girl first.
As I understand it, Kurds,like any run of the mill islamics, also practice “honor” killings, as well as female “gelding.”
So, yes, I have a very strong aversion to this type of stupid film, much less spend my money on it or time to rent.
Allat- a Pagan Amazon

allat on July 20, 2007 at 2:22 pm

Didn’t see you had a post reviewing this specific movie, so will just be repeating myself from the other thread. But I hate these movies because they always ignore the religious and spiritual reasons for Jews to be against intermarriage with non Jews — instead, it is easier to paint the observant Jews as simple minded bigots who have no reason in the world to oppose a non Jewish son/daughter in law except superficial prejudice . . .
It is so disgusting and such a grave disrespect for our religion.

AmericanJewess on July 21, 2007 at 2:20 pm

How could one confuse Kurdistan with Palestine?
Why was David & Layla film invited by the Jerusalem Film Festival and by the Ashdod “Love” fim fesival?
Why was David & Layla screened twice to sold out mostly Jewish audiences at New York Jewish Makor Center- perhaps the most respected Jewish cultural center in USA?
Why did David & Layla play for four weeks in Boca Raton, Florida, a predominantly wealthy and sophisticated Jewish and Israeli community?
Why is David & Layla reviewed positively by the main Jewish Press: The Jewish Journal, The Jerusalem Post, The Washington Jewish Week, The Jewish Exponent, etc?
Why did Jewish Lisa Nessleson, an experienced film critic who covers Cannes Film Festival, wrote a postive review of this film in The Variety?
Read below: Are some Jewish people in America tending to be”More Catholic than the Pope”? Or, is is just a case of regrettable miscoception arising out of blind (and deaf!) prejudice? Or, perhaps just from plain, innocent, human errors due to understanadable hyper sensitivity arising out of thousands of years of horrible persecutions and the horrific Holocaust?
Writer/Director Jay Jonroy, too, enjoyed meeting the charming and intelligent Debbie. But sadly her negative review is based on a few fundamental errors & misconceptions.
Layla in the end says “Next Year in Kurdistan”. Whereas Debbie seems to have heard “Palestine”. That is as fatally wrong as confusing Germany with Italy just because they are both Christian Euro nations!
Both real David and fictional David’s conversion to Islam was a sacrifice for love, a convenient formality. In practice, both Davids stay Jewish. David still sports his Star of David on his wedding night and in the wedding he still breaks the glass as Debbie points out in her review.
Debbie perceives that David & Layla raise their kid as Jewish and Muslim. In fact, the kid sports a kippa at the Seder, then playfully covers it with a colorful Kurdish Klaw (a national, not at all a religous symbol), not with the traditional white Muslim Klaw.
One of the theme of the film is Layla’s freedom & independence to dance, to drink and to choose her own destiny- includng her husband, in this case a Jewish man, against all odds.
Another theme is to show other nations exist besides Arabs in the Middle East and that Kurds have suffered genocide from Muslim Arabs, far worse than Palestinans’ claims from Israel
One of the main motivation for making the film was to share the not-widely known ‘noble humanitarian messages embedded in the thousand year old Seder’ with the world, especially with the peoples of Middle East and the Muslim world who are only fed with anit-Jewish anti-Israel propagandan from their Govermment-controlled meida.
Every humantarian line – loving kindness, truth, enemy of oppression,etc..- spoken by Judith and Layla in the film are word for word from Haggadah/Seder. Judith says, “let’s pray for Tibetians and Kurds.” Layla responds playfully (and mercifuly in the spirit of Haggadah’s loving kindness), “and Palestinians?” Judith poses, then says meaningfully, “And SOME Palestinians”, meaning NOT their terrorists, racists and suicide bombers!
All comedies work on some ethnic steretyping. (Read Jewish screenwrite Marshall Brickman who wrote Annie Hall and recently Jersey Boys) in “On Writing” of WGAE August issue.) For example, All In the Famiy, My Big Fat Greek…, Bend It Like Beckham.” For stereotyping Muslims, for mentioning Prophet’s Muhammed’s 12 wives and David stressing the word ‘captives’ in his line (and two of Prophet’s two wives were Jewish CAPTIVES” and for stiff Dr Ahmad and goofy Uncle Ali, and for David’s ripping pants in a holy mosque, for Muslim wine dancing, showing flesh, drinking wine and being made love to by a Jew, the director of David & Layla will have several Salaman Rushdi Fatwas issued against him once this film gets out in DVD’s and satellie TV. NO Islam or Arab countries will show David & Laya for fear of Islamists. They believe David & Layal is A pro Jews and pro Israel film funded and sponsored by CIA and the Israeli& Jewish lobbies.
Below is Debbie’s puzzling erroneous mishear and miscoception of David & Layla. No wonder her review is so wrong and so negative. Perhaps see the film (again) to prove for yourself that Layla does not say “Next Year in Palestine” but “Next Year in Kurdistan.”
Debbie’s review: “In the end, David converts to Islam, they raise their kid Muslim and Jewish, and at the Passover Seder, the family agrees with Layla’s request that they wish peace upon the Palestinian people and say, “Next Year in Palestine.” The end.”

NewrozFilms on September 2, 2007 at 4:56 pm

I was happy to see a story that I thought was about peace and reconciliation, but so disturbed by its negative stereotypes of Jews that I could not sit through it. I was actually shocked to see how they were portrayed–as money grubbing JAPs. I really hope the director closely examines his own prejudices and is more careful of the views he is propagating.

Hally Luyah on October 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm

It is unknown if Aphrodyne is excreted in breast milk. ,

bevoren online pharmacy on May 14, 2011 at 8:36 am

I just watched the movie, and to be honest with you, I was a little disappointed, I actually skipped parts because it was so boring. As a muslim kurd myself with roots from Kurdistan Iran, I feel for every innocent person who has been killed, and who has lost family members in war, no matter where you’re from. That is how I’ve been raised by my family and religion, so I was glad to hear about Palestine, because I have seen with my own eyes how they have suffered by Israelis brutal acts, and yes, despite the fact that some arabs haven’t been my people’s best friends, but if everyone were to think about revenge and judge a whole nation based on some bad people from that same nation, this world would be in ruins by now. Fuck all governments that kills, they are the ones who should be assfucked by monkeys now, those lowlifed sons of bitches who have turned us all against each other and made us hate each other when we really don’t have to. They are devils. I envy those who lived in the time where people from all the different religions lived in peace.

All in all, having friends from all different nations, from arabic countries, Turkey, Armenia, Bosnia etc has made me realize that we could have lived in peace and harmony.

I believe that kurds have always been a kind people, I am not saying every single one of us, off course, because there are bad people among everyone whether you like it or not, but kurds as a people. But that ruined us was all the hate that suddenly were brought to us from all sides, and yet till this they, they can’t give us a good reason. And hate often turns to wanting revenge if you’re not strong enough and can’t somehow find peace just between yourself and your heart.
I will never forget the attack on Halabja, that is glued to every kurdish heart, and just as well, I won’t forget the attack on Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and how they live there when I visited the place.

cocolin0 on June 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I’m a Palestinian Muslim and even I thought this film was offensive to Jews and Muslims. There are controversial movies that are still good (such as “Crash” or “Do the Right Thing”). But this was poorly made and boring. The imam’s reaction when he found out David was Jewish was overkill and David’s mom was annoying to watch. And then of course the director’s view that a Muslim woman could only be “free” or open-minded is by being a belly dancer was really untasteful. I wish I’d never watched this, it was even worse than the “Twilight” series, and that’s saying a lot. So many stupid themes and BORING!

Justine on August 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Very stupid movie, the girl reads poems in (Persian Language) and says that they are (Kurdish) Poems, The Kurdish Language has no relation with Persian language>
Very week movie with a lot of mistakes, it seems that the Director does not know anything about Kurds and the Kurdish Language and Kurdish culture.

Faxir on May 18, 2013 at 7:59 pm

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