The locations are storied and exotic: Cairo, Aleppo, Damascus, Beirut, Tel Aviv. In a war-torn and bitterly divided Middle East, what binds these places together in this beautiful documentary is their deep-rooted connection to classical Arabic music. Creating a lyrical road movie, Paris-based filmmaker Florence Strauss sets out to trace the origins of Arabic music and in the process makes discoveries about her own family’s hidden heritage.
Growing up in France, Strauss had been introduced to the exquisite tradition of classical Arabic music through her French Muslim friends, but she was unaware of how much that tradition had been embraced and furthered by Iraqi and other Middle Eastern Jews in Israel, and she knew nothing about her own Mizrahi roots. Her grandfather Robert Hakim, a renowned French film producer (Belle de Jour, L’Avventura and others), had been thrown out of his native Egypt with many other prominent Jews in the 1950s and forbade the family to discuss let alone visit Egypt.
Strauss embarks on a journey of artistic and personal discovery to pay tribute to the extraordinary singers, instrumentalists and poets who perpetuate a musical tradition that crosses borders even when the musicians cannot. Ancient rhythms, melodies and harmonies pour forth in passages of musical joy. In titling the film in French “Le Blues de l’Orient,” Strauss pointed up the music’s melancholy air; but its English title refers both to the striking quarter-tones of the Arabic musical scale and to the music’s delicate, binding role among peoples and cultures