As I’m writing my review of The Virgin, the Copts and Me, I’m still on the fence about it. But I will admit that it does have a sense of humour. This is true even if the documentary filmmaker, Namir Abdel Meseeh, puts that humour on too heavily. There’s a scene including minor subjects who looks like he’s going to a club instead of his real job runs a weekly paper in a Coptic church in Egypt. And the camera closes up on the man’s tattoo of the Virgin, calling out the tackiness that’s inherent in Christianity. Meseeh is talking to this newspaper writer because the former is looking for people. Specifically, ones who witnessed an apparition of the Virgin in a certain Egyptian city in 1968, but the documentary digresses, for worse or maybe better.
Meseeh gives a lot of screen time to the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt, some of them with tattoos of the Virgin or a saint of a cross, some of them don’t. I might get into the tattoos again later. The other person he gives screen time to is himself as he has conversations with people in his new home country, France. One of those people is his mother. She repeatedly warns him that it’s not easy to get access to both the Church and his family. The other person is his producer, who yells at him for digressing. There are many thoughts that viewers can have when it comes to the Meseeh versus producer dynamic. But some of us can chalk that up as commentary about contemporary impatience.
In fairness to the documentary’s producer though, the Copts and Me has this air and tone of gonzo filmmaking of people trying to make it up as he goes along. And the older I get, the less trust I have with people who fake it until they make it. The documentary also delves into conspiracy theory as it interviews a subject who believes that the Nasser administration faked the Apparition. Nasser apparently did this to re-include the Christians within a majority Muslim country. Of course, biases influence these people’s beliefs, duh. And then the producer cuts off funding and his mother has to rescue him which is not a good look.
But then again, if people are delusional enough to believe something, it can become true and be a positive influence in their life. The documentary, at first, was about people talking about the Virgin. But it became a documentary where Meseeh goes to his home town are reenacts an Apparition. Cynical viewers can see this as condescending, as it saying that people need Apparitions to make them feel less poor. And of course, French companies give funding to documentaries like this to feel better about their secular ways. But there’s something heartwarming about this. The townsfolk audition for certain roles, and pretending to see the Virgin is just as good as the real thing.
The Virgin, the Copts and Me comes to OVID today.