In the short film Marimba, director Amer Halasa beautifully depicts the call to give. This is a film that while directed toward Muslim audiences, is not one that only applies in this situation; rather the film conveys a message of an urge to care for humanity applicable to all. However, this film particularly calls to the Islamic viewer through the implication of the idea of zakat, or alms giving. In further study of the characters interactions and story, it becomes apparent the different film techniques used to convey a deep message.
The film follows Sanad through a few hours of his life which include seemingly unimportant events that lead to his eyes being opened to the realities of the call to the practice of zakat in the Islamic faith. Zakat is a subsection of the fourth pillar of Islam, which specifically refers to charitable giving in order to “purify or make sacred their wealth” by giving to the poor in the name of God (Turner 154). The opening of the film shows Sanad in fairly nice clothing, with a nice home, and an iPhone—subtly showing his wealth.
The film is set in Jordan, a primarily Muslim country which allows the viewer to believe that Sanad is a Muslim, and should be practicing zakat. According to the Qur’an, one who is able should give what they have to the poor, and do so because of what has been provided to them from God in order to care for their community, similar to how God cares for them (73. 20). The film shows that Sanad is clearly financially okay, giving no reason for him to be unable to contribute to the needy around him.
In the film, when returning home from the party, Sanad truly see the elderly man living by the dumpster across from his home for the first time, however not when initially prompted by Bashar. Sanad is at his door when he drops his keys; while picking them up he notices that the man has started going through the dumpster to collect a can Sanad had just disposed of, experiencing the man’s struggle for the first time.
This is representative the notion that often, a person in need is not really seen—they may be walked past all day, but many just no longer see. In this moment of chance, Sanad turning around and viewing this action, the audience is reminded of the need to look a little harder to see people, notice and identify the needs of those that we have become accustomed too. After this scene, Sanad has entered a shop in order to purchase cigarettes, where the Sanad’s emotions and thoughts are brought together.
In the store, a young boy is purchasing a sack full of food, and does not have enough to pay. The shop clerk shows compassion and lets the boy give what he has and go on. As Sanad exits the store with his purchase, he sees the boy giving the sack to a Muslim woman, who immediately gives the food to the young girl with her. There is a chain of giving that occurs between people who by their portrayal are all of lesser financial means, and all is done so with joy and seemingly without a second thought.
A store clerk accepts less than is due; the boy gives away what he has bought, and thus all of his money, to a woman begging on the street, who then gives it to her child. The Qur’an repeatedly points to giving what you can to the poor and needy, and while these individuals could not give much, they gave what they could—God has not asked for extravagant giving (17. 29). This serves to push Sanad back to his thoughts of the elderly man, weighing on his mind, and ultimately bringing him to try and change his actions.
The motivator for this change is caused by the young boy whom Halasa uses carefully. Halasa takes a character who appears to be poorer, and is considerably younger, taking part in the act of zakat with no hesitation, showing Sanad that if someone of these characteristics is doing what God had asked, then Sanad should be doing so as well. The next major display is Sanad returning home to help the man in some way, only to find him gone, but his cans still beside the dumpster, insinuating his death.
At this point, Sanad’s phone begins ringing, however he does not answer, alluding to the idea of missing the sign-how often something is noticeably signaling our attention and we miss it. Here Halasa uses sound in order to almost haunt the audience, leaving the sound of the marimba ringtone repeating over and over while the film plays out, letting it remind the viewer what signs were missed, the actions that should have been taken, and to self reflect as well (Goldberg).
Halasa’s film Marimba was used to elegantly convey messages far deeper than what many viewers would expect of a sevenminute short film. By combining meaningful interactions between characters with subtle hints to underlying actions, the importance of giving to the poor is easily seen. In the Islamic faith there is a pillar devoted to this action, and this film is a wonderful tool in viewing just how easy it can be to miss an opportunity provided by God to fulfill the action of zakat.