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
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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.


Saudi annual event 'Ayam Zaman' teaches younger generation the customs and traditions of days gone by

Ayam Zaman is an annual event that creates the old Ramadan atmosphere through the design of the place and the food and art exhibition. AN photo by Iqbal Hossain
Updated 22 May 2018
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Saudi annual event 'Ayam Zaman' teaches younger generation the customs and traditions of days gone by

  • Ayam Zaman, or “Old Days,” is an annual event that is usually held during the holy month
  • The event is sponsored by many companies such as STC, PEPSE, and Al-Faridah Hall

RIYADH: Parents always talk about the old days, and how “old is gold.” They start their conversations with the phrase “Back in the old
days …”

Today we get to live these old days in the Ayam Zaman’s event, held in Al-Faredah Hall in Riyadh from May 19-22.  The event started on the third day of Ramadan, and is one of the many events happening during the holy month.
Ayam Zaman is a place where the older generation can retrieve their memories and the younger generation can enjoy the customs and traditions in their original form but in a modern way.
Ayam Zaman, or “Old Days,” is an annual event that is usually held during the holy month, creating the old Ramadan atmosphere through the design of the place, the food, art exhibition and Ramadan products such as clothes, fragrance perfume and accessories.  It also holds the classic cinema for the first time in Saudi Arabia. It is a social development entertainment event that brings together heritage and modern innovations to support Saudi sm all enterprises through the booths represented there.

 

A young participant called Noura Alkhalel, a pharmacy student who is also an artist, told Arab News about her company “Adaptive Pieces” and how she and her sister came up with the concept to serve a younger audience. She said: “The idea of the company is to sell unique art pieces for everyone, especially the younger audience who cannot afford to buy art at their original prices.”  Asked how she ended up in Ayam Zaman, she said; “The Ayam Zaman event found us. No matter how many times Ayam Zaman do events, I’m pretty sure we will be part of it because it’s how we launched ourselves and we feel very grateful to it.”   
Ibrahim Al-Juwar, an architect at Clear Spectra, one of the “mindmakers” of this event, told Arab news: “The event’s idea is to tell the story of our lives today by bringing back our old culture and traditions, and that is how it is reflected through the designs of the booths and the outdoor settings.”
He said: “The event will be a great place for the family to chill and entertain themselves, watching live performances and allowing themselves to participate in Ramadan games.”
The event is sponsored by many companies such as STC, PEPSE, and Al-Faridah Hall. STC’s booth had a children’s arts section where they can express their artistic talents.
The concept of Garge’aan is strongly emphasized during the event with children roaming around the hall singing songs and collecting sweets and candy.
There is a separate zone for children to play in and have fun. The children’s zone includes bouncing castles, arcade games and entertainment shows.
Ibrahim said: “The kids’ zone is a little separated from the adults’ sections so that the parents can enjoy themselves.”  
The event is created by a Saudi group, who worked hard on designing and shaping the identity of the event to make it a reality. Many talented female designers also participated in the event.  Ibrahim told Arab News that there will be more events, especially during Eid and for the national day.

FACTOID

The event is created by a Saudi group, who worked hard on designing and shaping the identity of the event to make it a reality.