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RAFIK: The Screw

A film by Dei El-Ayoubi & Ann Megalla with Curt Simon

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Jung

When we first met our protagonist, famous and revered Lebanese-Jordanian Outsider Artist, Rafik Majzoub, in 2012, we were not only blown away by his haunting, expressionist paintings and political illustrations, we were drawn to the man himself. He had this strange mix of magnetic charm, sharp intellect, raw fragility and brutal honesty – he doesn’t cover up his scars but lays them all bare. We instantly knew that we were in the presence of a real diamond in the rough. Fascinated, we wanted to know more and delved deeper into Majzoub’s psyche. We fell down the rabbit hole. 

Born in Jordan in 1971, Majzoub grew up in a region in turmoil. At the age of 19, he burst onto the post-war Beirut art scene like a tornado, shaking the establishment and carving out a successful artistic career to become the poster boy for the post war generation. At the height of his international success, critics compared him to Jean-Michel Basquiat. As his fame grew, so did his destructive behavior, alienating those around him.

Now, at 49, Majzoub is a at war with himself. The artist lays bare a deeper understanding of his tumultuous life navigating the boundary between chaos and control. His talent still intact, Majzoub’s fractured self- portraits and political illustrations are the soul’s window to deeper unknown truths of the human condition; a mirror expressing a unique frankness of vision to illuminate the dark & murky corners of a plagued soul and embattled society. 

Neither an artist’s biography nor artwork retrospective, the neo–noir styled feature documentary The Screw invites us to see what makes us who we are and examines the transformative power of the creative spirit. 

Majzoub opens up his personal diaries to form the voice-over backbone, baring his inner most thoughts; animated notebook sketches take us on a journey through his world. A visually rich milieu of interviews, interactions, photographs, journals, lost archive footage, and an impressive body-of-work spanning twenty-five years powerfully conveys Rafik’s emotional roller-coaster life and uncompromising creative spirit. 

The Screw is an opportunity to portray a compelling character and a human story with universal themes. Through his memories of war, loneliness, family relationships, and addiction, comes a frankness of vision – the authentic self against all abstractions – eased only by the tender speech of this lucid man. 

The Screw is a rare film coming from the Arab Arts World. With an honesty that cuts to the bone Majzoub navigates his life, and artistic expression, through the prism of war, geo-politics, social & economic instability. His simplistic, naive portraits and ironic illustrations embody the trauma, displacement and fractured identity that occur as a consequence of a region in constant turmoil. 

The film is designed to break through the negative stereotypes of people from the Middle East that are being communicated through the mainstream media. We see that the process of humanization in film can be a political act: when people can identify with someone or a situation, it is then that they can gain insight, or an awareness of the wider cultural issues that affect our world today. In this context The Screw is certainly a vital film that will be told with empathy, understanding and impact. 

The acknowledgment of our flaws, cracks and weakness is the first step to cathartically healing the psyche both on an individual and collective level. By observing Majzoub, the audience has a safe window into themselves. Our character doesn’t hide his afflictions; he works with them and channels them into his creative process. Like an alchemist, Majzoub transmutes pain and suffering into art

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