Rating: R, TIme: 1hr 38min, Director: Tom Twyker, Cast on IMDb
So how did this film with drinking get filmed in Saudi Arabia?
As many may know, there is no accepted drinking in Saudi Arabia by law, but of course in any prohibion era of a popular pastime alcohol does get smuggled in, made by hand, etc. I think a majority of the drinking scenes were done in Morrocco or Egypt with a higher tolerance of alcohol, sex scenes, etc. needed in the film to make it watchable and entertaining. So in a way the director is misleading the audience a bit on the ease of drinking. The illegal parties in the film also happen as you expect, but only for expats, no Saudis allowed. If you get caught smuggling alcohol the punishment can be death. An expat caught drinking would be automatically expelled for at least 5 years. The film kind of skims over this reality.
Real life public execution in El Deera Square aka "chop-chop" square
Were there other taboo topics addressed in the film?
Yes, the driver for Tom Hanks character Alan, Yousef played by Alexander Black lets Alan know that the square that had tons of people surrouding it was for a public execution and offers to take him as a joke. In reality, in 2011, half of the public executions were for foreigners breaking one of their tabus: drinking, Apostacy, cheating, importing a Bible, etc. Only 4 countries in the world still practice public execution. Thinking an American would decide to live permanently in this environment is a bit of a stretch. You literally are risking your life just to drink or accidentally drive to Mecca as a non-Muslim.
Were they redeeming factors for the film?
Actually, the film is really hiralious with the dead pan humor in such a strict country as Saudi Arabia. There are dark jokes on drinking, public executions, nothing getting done without connections, divorce, swimming as a woman, women doctors, etc. I think that really won me over as a film. It's always a challenge to take such diverse characters and throw them into a completely new, dangerous environment like KSA. Some of the best jokes are from Yousef the driver seen above. He is having an affair in the film and worried about being killed by the husband.
Also being an expat myself I relate to running into government regulation, dangers in a new country with distinct morals you may not know of and the lure of the exotic women. I married a foreigner, so these types of relationships the film dive into are very relatable on that level of culture clash, bizarre food, learning language and daily challenges.
The discovery of how alcohol is being consumed in the country is funny as well. Alan gets ahold of "olive oil" that is hard core home-brew when he is completely stressed on completing his mission of A Hologram for a King.
Do you think of this as a propaganda film?
Sort of. How realistic is it for an American to decide to live in a country where he could be executed or harrassed for behavior that would be tolerated in the US: drinking, cheating, holding hands, having a Bible, etc. I know that the director and actors are merely putting up a good comedy together, but sometimes you need to keep in perspective the larger picuture of how people live. As a comedy it works very well and is entertaining, but could leave you with a false perception of the true reality of living in compounds in KSA as an expat. The woman who Alan has an affair with could literally be stoned in KSA for that type of relationship, so I'm a bit doubtful that this isn't a bit of propaganda by KSA to cover up its terrible human traffic record, semi-slave Phillipine labor force, prohibition excesses, bombing civilians in Yemen and connection to groups like Al Queda and ISIS while ignoring humanitarian disasters like Syrian refugees they help cause.
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