Editor's note: This film is no longer available online.
As times harden in the Arab world, people have begun to recall the greatest diva of all time: Asmahan, the Syrian princess who emigrated to Egypt in the 1920s and became an entertainer.
Today, traces of the Cairo that Asmahan once loved are difficult to find in the blanket of apathy that weighs on the city.
It was in Cairo that Asmahan sang her famous song Euphoric Nights in Vienna (1944), in which she manufactured an Arab fantasy for the European city. Today, many Arabs go to Vienna in search of the dream whispered to them by the greatest diva.
But things are not quite that simple. Asmahan is not the angel everyone imagines her to be. Behind her angelic face are dark secrets, and it is time we stopped being manipulated by Asmahan's unbearable presence.
By Azza El-Hassan
I found myself drawn to Asmahan. What lured me to her was not the fact that she was a princess who became an entertainer, nor was it her magical voice. I have always been fascinated by her dramatic life events and mysterious death.
But, again, this was not what provoked me to make a film about her. What attracted me the most to the Asmahan of today was how much she continues to be vivid and apparent in the life of many people.
Sixty years following her death, Asmahan is still haunting and changing the lives of many. Something about her continues to talk to people and makes them cling on to her - something which I was determined to capture on film.
Amidst the rage of the Arab Spring, I found myself following her footsteps. I travelled to Cairo, Egypt. A city that recently witnessed a revolution and a counter-revolution. In this chaotic, disturbed place people recalled to my camera a glorious past that attracted Asmahan to come to Cairo as an immigrant and to become the greatest diva of the Arab world.
Although Asmahan seemed to have been wrapped up in her immediate world - and there is no record of her actually considering immigrating to the West - she is responsible for painting a glorious image of Vienna, the city of “music and love”, as she described it in one of her songs.
In Vienna, I am stunned to discover that Asmahan’s magical voice and song for Vienna has lured many to this city, hoping to capture the dream, which Asmahan once manufactured.
As I collected various myths and stories which people narrated about her, I realised that Asmahan was changing the life course of many; people who have constructed an affiliation with her and who feel that she somehow empowered them.
No doubt about it, that Asmahan is not an easy woman to forget, an icon that sits comfortably among her peers. But it is said that in problematic times people tend to cling to past icons. The past somehow becomes safer and more reassuring than the present. Is this why people are holding onto her, wishing that she would guide their paths?
But isn’t it time to reconstruct your present and to abandon your past? The Arab Spring was a time in which people are questioning regimes, systems and leaderships under which they have dwelled for years. And this film is made at this moment in history. That’s why in The Unbearable Presence Of Asmahan the overpowering presence of Asmahan is eventually challenged.