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A Sufi Valentine

Film by Bill Mousoulis

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A Sufi Valentine

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A unique collaboration between poet Ali Alizadeh and filmmaker Bill Mousoulis.

In A Sufi Valentine, Alizadeh recites English translations of Rumi and Hafiz, as well as his own contemporary Sufi poems. Accompanying the poems, Mousoulis' film follows six characters on their individual journeys of disenchantment, awakening and bliss: a poet and dancer who are struggling with their art, and four lovesick individuals, engulfed in solitude and yearning.

Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism made popular through the medium of poetry and song. A Sufi is dedicated to love, and to the task of praising the beloved. Rumi, for example, lost himself in the ecstasy of longing. Hafiz, another important Sufi poet, was intoxicated with the magic of union with the creator by drinking from 'the Cup of the World'.

Director: Bill Mousoulis
Writers: Ali Alizadeh and Bill Mousoulis
Cast: Natalie Vella, Okan Husnu, Sophie Angelle, Rad Rudd, Gregory Pakis, Safoura Alizadeh and The Fiery Angels.

Ali Alizadeh is an Iranian-Australian poet, novelist, and scriptwriter.  He has published several collections of poetry, the novel The New Angel (2008), and the memoir cum fiction Iran: My Grandfather (2010), which Alizadeh presented at the 2010 Sydney Writers’ Festival. The book was named as one of the best books of the year in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

Bill Mousoulis is one of Australia’s most prolific independent filmmakers, with approximately 100 films to his name. As well as making shorts and medium-length films such as the award-winning drama Between Us (1989, 37 mins) and the poetry-film collaboration A Sufi Valentine (2004, 34 mins), Mousoulis has also made eight feature-length films, including Lovesick (2002, 70 mins), Blue Notes (2006, 93 mins) and A Nocturne (2007, 70 mins), which won Best Film at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival in 2007 and also screened in numerous film festivals in Europe in 2008.
In 1985 he founded the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group, a co-operative that lasted until 2001 as an active, recognised organisation. In 1999, Mousoulis founded the online film journal Senses of Cinema, a continuing journal, with The Times newspaper in the UK naming it "Best Film journal website".

Mousoulis' work as a filmmaker is acknowledged by film critic Adrian Martin, who has labelled Mousoulis "one of Australia's most committed independent filmmakers". And current writer for The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Jake Wilson, has called Mousoulis "an independent film legend".


For anyone familiar with the prolific work of local independent filmmaker Bill Mousoulis, the images in A Sufi Valentine seem at first like old friends. Couples are glimpsed at the silent, strained end of an argument we will never understand; individuals are captured in still lives of everyday solitude.

But it does not take long for some exciting new elements to be added. A Sufi Valentine is a collaboration between Mousoulis and poet Ali Alizadeh - Alizadeh is a modern exponent of Sufi poetry, mixing his own work with translations of classics by Hafiz and Rumi. The intensity of the lyrics is seemingly a long way from the restrained minimalism of Mousoulis’s imagery: “Your lustrous face stars against the dark cave’s backdrop / Your eyes roar with tropical might.”

The juxtaposition is initially startling and even disconcerting, but eventually the images start to warm up in response. Slowly, as the piece unfolds, we see the beginnings of new relationships, or the arrival of artistic inspiration.

The path of a dancer (Safoura Alizadeh) is the most intriguing. We see her alone in a studio, seemingly blocked and in despair. She lies on the ground or listens to music, but nothing works. That is, until one of those subtle and magical transformations often seen in Mousoulis’s films.

The moment when she finally liberates herself into dance is no Bollywood spectacular. But in the context of A Sufi Valentine it serves to bring everything together – all the small tentative steps taken by all the characters in their daily lives, moving ever closer (even as they are unaware of it) to the kind of physical joy and spiritual communion powerfully promised in the poetry.

FOUR STARS”  -  Adrian Martin, The Age, June 10, 2004.

In A Sufi Valentine, Iranian-born Melbourne poet Ali Alizadeh places himself squarely, if agnostically, in the aesthetic tradition of Sufi mysticism. And not without what might be taken as a certain arrogance - for this half hour performance, he puts himself on the bill with two of the greatest Sufi poets, Rumi and Hafiz, who hail respectively from 12th and 14th century Persia. But as Yevteshenko said to young poets: "Be equal to your talent, not your age. / At times let the gap between them be embarrassing. / Fear not / To be young, precocious..."

Despite the excuse of youth, there is neither embarrassment nor precocity in Alizadeh's performance. A Sufi Valentine is what is sometimes grandly called cross-media art - that is, it incorporates elements of a poetry reading, theatre and film - but what is most striking about it is its simultaneous humility and ambition.

- Alison Croggon, Theatre Notes, June 16, 2004


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