Hany Abu-Assad

FILM REVIEW: “The Idol” is a Palestinian crowd-pleaser

This inspirational drama is based on the story of a Gaza Strip refugee who won the "Arab Idol" reality show in 2013.

Earlier this year, “Sing Street” chronicled the inspiring pursuit of musical glory by a kid from a disadvantaged background. Nothing against John Carney’s charming semi-autobiographical fable, but as far as barriers to success and happiness, 1980s Dublin ain’t got nothin’ on the Gaza Strip.

“The Idol” is also a fictionalized take on a true story, that of Mohammad Assaf, a Palestinian who emerged from the isolation and poverty of Gaza to win the top prize on “Arab Idol” in 2013 and became a hero to his nation. (Yes, there is an “Arab Idol,” which proves that people the world over, despite differences in race, creed, or culture, are all merely slaves to Simon Cowell’s evil genius.)

The movie begins in 2005, as young Mohammad (Qais Atallah) forms a band with his spunky sister Nour (Hiba Atallah) and his best pal Omar (Abd-Elkarim Abu-Barakeh). Omar decides that music is the devil’s tool, and Nour develops a serious kidney illness, so their musical dreams are put on hold.