"The Cruel Sea" Kuwaiti Pearl Diving Film

Batteel Dhow, Kuwait  (photo by Kari)

Batteel Dhow, Kuwait (photo by Kari)

"The Cruel Sea" Kuwaiti Pearl Diving Film

Kuwait however, surprised the world when a film by Khalid Al-Siddiq, “The Cruel Sea” – better known by its Arabic name, “Bas Ya Bahr” – appeared in 1972, representing artistically the pre-oil life of pearl divers in the country and probably the only film in history to have done so. For being a country without any experience in cinema, the film demonstrated great talent and immediately became a master piece of Arab cinema.

Even though theaters existed in Kuwait since the legendary Al-Sharqiah cinema opened in 1954, in the early days of cinema the country was still too poor and populated entirely by tribes that roamed the sand and dived into the sea for pearls; later on after the first oil boom, what began was a culture of film watching rather than producing, hence the surprise when Al-Siddiq’s film – made independently and certainly free from the film celebrity culture of Cairo, Beirut and Teheran at the time – hit the international scene and even won a prize at the Carthage Film Festival in that year, 1972.

In the plot, a crippled pearl diver forbids his son to go into the sea to dive for pearls, wanting for him a much better future than that he had for himself in the turbulent sea at the mercy of the inclement weather and the dangers associated with pearl diving – money feuds, ruthless overlords and greed. Mussaid, the young son, is in love with a woman from a wealthy family and needs to make enough money to marry her. Her father is a rich merchant who desires nothing but her to marry for money.

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