Arab cinema back with a bang; bringing lepers, lust and class conflict to Cannes

Lebanese film-maker Nadine Labaki’s highly-anticipated third film ‘Capernaum’ — about a 12-year-old boy with an axe to grind about being born into a miserable, loveless existence — has racked up a string of distribution deals ahead of its premiere at Cannes. (AFP)
Updated 17 May 2018
0

Arab cinema back with a bang; bringing lepers, lust and class conflict to Cannes

  • Not since 1970 have two Arab films been in the running for the Palme d’Or top prize and female Arab directors are particularly making a splash this year.
  • Nadine Labaki, who set her first film ‘Caramel’ in a Beirut beauty parlour, zooms in on neglected children and migrants in ‘Capernaum.’

CANNES: A boy who takes his parents to court for having him is one of a wave of Arab films making people sit up and take notice at the Cannes film festival.
Not since 1970 have two Arab films been in the running for the Palme d’Or top prize and female Arab directors are particularly making a splash this year.
Lebanese film-maker Nadine Labaki’s highly-anticipated third film “Capernaum” — about a 12-year-old boy with an axe to grind about being born into a miserable, loveless existence — has racked up a string of distribution deals ahead of its premiere late Thursday.
And two first-time female directors made impressive debuts with films about suffocating social conventions in Syria and Morocco.
But while the #MeToo movement continued to make waves, with several Hollywood actresses ditching frilly frocks for pants for their photo shoots, Arab film-makers appeared more concerned with social alienation.
Labaki, who set her first film “Caramel” in a Beirut beauty parlour, zooms in on neglected children and migrants in “Capernaum,” which has drawn comparisons with Charlie Chaplin’s story of a street boy, “The Kid.”
Labaki said she found the idea staring her in the face one night when she was driving home from a party.
“I stopped at a traffic light and saw a child half-asleep in the arms of his mother, who was sitting on the tarmac begging.”
The encounter spurred her to use a mostly hard-up, amateur cast including a Syrian refugee child for the lead role.
Going toe-to-toe with her and the likes of Spike Lee for the Palme d’Or — won only twice in 70 years by Arab directors — is A.B. Shawky, with his feel-good first feature about an Egyptian leper and his orphan friend, also played by amateurs.
A year after the award-winning “The Nile Hilton Incident,” a noirish tale of murder and corruption set during the 2011 revolution in Cairo, “Yomeddine” serves up less political fare.
“What I really want to do is highlight marginalized groups. I wanted to give a voice to people who don’t necessarily have anybody to speak for them,” said Austrian-Egyptian writer-director Shakwy.
Similarly, the Moroccan entry about an unmarried woman threatened with jail for falling pregnant is actually more preoccupied with class divisions.
The film shows a middle-class, 20-year-old from a Casablanca family scrambling to avoid bringing shame on her family after an unwanted pregnancy.
The real victim in the affair, however, is not the one left holding the baby.
“I found that the debate about the condition of women in the Arab world was being reduced to the issue of patriarchy and chauvinism, which to me falls short of the mark,” director Meryem Benm’Barek told AFP.
“Whether you are a man or a woman, what determines whether or not you are a victim is your social status,” she said.
Tunisia director Mohamed Ben Attia’s “Dear Son,” about a father trying to trace his son who has run away to join the Daesh group, is also more family drama than a political broadside.
The birthplace of the Arab Spring, which has been mired in economic crisis ever since, is estimated to have supplied more militants in Syria than any other country.
Ben Attia, who won acclaim with “Hedi,” about a young man torn between duty and passion in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution, tries to tease out the malaise behind the lure of Daesh for disaffected Muslim youths.
Like Labaki, Shawky and Benm’Barek, he believes the story could be transposed to many parts of the globe.
“There is a sort of misery, not only spiritual but emotional, not so much a thirst for ideology as a desire to walk away from this lifestyle... and all the values that are foisted on us.
“They could be living in Paris or elsewhere, it’s the same,” Ben Attia added.
War and unfulfilled desires also collide in the Syrian film, “My Favourite Fabric,” the first film of Paris-based Syrian director Gaya Jiji.
French-Lebanese actress Manal Issa puts in a standout performance as a sullen young Syrian fantasising about sexual abandon and escaping to the West as the war drums begin to beat in early 2011.
She carried her protest over onto the red carpet at Cannes, where she held up a placard reading “Stop the Attack on Gaza.”
Gaza also made it onto the big screen, in a documentary by Italian filmmaker Stefano Savona about the massacre of an extended Palestinian family in 2009 that received rave reviews.
With Saudi Arabia also unveiling big tax breaks for filmmakers at Cannes — Arab cinema may be entering a new era.


Like a Berber: Madonna celebrates 60th birthday in Marrakech

Updated 19 August 2018
0

Like a Berber: Madonna celebrates 60th birthday in Marrakech

  • The Queen of Pop donned the attire of a “Berber Queen” in Marrakech on her birthday
  • On Sunday, the American star posted pictures and videos on her Instagram of a fun photo shoot with British-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj

JEDDAH: Madonna’s 60th birthday celebrations are creating quite a buzz, especially delighting her Arab fans that she chose to mark the milestone in Morocco.
The Queen of Pop donned the attire of a “Berber Queen” in Marrakech on her birthday, wearing a fuchsia chiffon long-sleeved gown by Gucci with Berber jewelry and a headpiece by Marianna Harutunian.
On Sunday, the American star posted pictures and videos on her Instagram of a fun photo shoot with British-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj, known as the “Andy Warhol of Marrakech.” Madonna, who posed for pictures with her family, is seen dressed in a traditional red attire, accessorized with colorful jewelry and a Louis Vuitton headscarf.
“Life can be sweet and sour and sometimes a surprise can happen that you never would think of and this was one of (those) moments; want to thank Madonna and her lovely family and being patient for the shoot at my riad,” Hajjaj wrote on Instagram.
Hashtagged #birthday #magic #Marakesh, Madonna’s pictures have gone viral on social media since she first posted a portrait of herself bedecked in Berber jewelry and brandishing a sign that reads “The Queen.” She wrote: “Finally and at last it’s my birthday! I have survived! Life is beautiful!”
On the eve of the big day, she toured the former imperial city of Morocco under the close watch of the paparazzi and wrote: “Walking through the Labyrinth of the Medina during the Call to Prayer.” She posted a video shot at night, wandering in the alleys of the city’s ancient market.
“Mystical walk through the desert,” she captioned a photo featuring her in the desert, with six horsemen holding candles in the background.
Another portrait shows Madonna wearing a fez decorated with Berber jewelry, along with a caption reading: “Today I am wearing CAKE on my head!“
Known for repeatedly reinventing herself during her 35-year pop career, Madonna has been staying at the luxury palace-turned-hotel El Fenn, owned by the sister of British billionaire Richard Branson, Vanessa. The property has been redecorated and staff have had their smart phones confiscated to protect the privacy of Madonna and her guests. The birthday guest list has also been kept secret, and Moroccan police were keeping journalists and photographers at bay.
Guests reportedly dressed in traditional Bedouin garb for the Arabian-themed party featuring Berber music. According to the Mirror, Indian designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee designed kaftans and Berber costumes for them.
Agence France-Presse reported a local photographer as saying that he had spotted Madonna wearing a veil covering the hair and face but for the eyes. She reportedly visited the five-star Kasbah Agafay spa, went shopping at a souk and enjoyed a camel trek in the desert.
Local media reported that she and around 15 friends had dined out at a restaurant in western Morocco, escorted by bodyguards and under police surveillance.
Taking to social media under the hashtag #MadonnaAt60, fans from across the world sent birthday wishes to the pop diva. Since her first, eponymous album came out in 1983, Madonna has sold more than 300 million records, with albums such as “True Blue,” “Like a Prayer” and “Ray of Light” topping music charts around the world.