Film review: An imaginative approach to capturing tension on screen

Haylie Niemann in 'The Wedding Singer’s Daughter.' (Photo supplied)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Film review: An imaginative approach to capturing tension on screen

VENICE: Long before Saudi Arabia reopened its cinemas earlier this year, Haifaa Al-Mansour had made her first movie, “Wadjda,” which premiered at the 2012 Venice film festival.
Al-Mansour had told me then that her entire directorial exercise had been a real struggle: She had to sit inside a van and shout her instructions through a microphone. The movie suffered, but when she premiered “Mary Shelly” in 2017, the progress was for all to see.
Her latest outing is “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” a short film that screened at the 75th edition of the Venice film festival last week. The film is a neat work of art and features a girl who saves her mother from embarrassment during a traditional Saudi wedding.
Here, much like her first film’s young protagonist, a child (played by Haylie Neimann) becomes a hero when she gets up on a table to fix a microphone so her mother (played by Saudi singer Rotana Tarabzouni) can continue singing.
Neimann is a natural and acts with her eyes, something that is very rare these days. It is clear that Al-Mansour’s attention was totally on the little girl, which is not a bad thing, but maybe a bit more camera time for the singer could have balanced out the work a little more evenly.
Although it is understandable that priorities must be chosen in such a short film — this one runs for about eight minutes — a little more creativity in the editing room could have made the feature a more satisfying watch.
The film captures the essence of society, with Al-Mansour publicly stating that “weddings are the actual mirror of the society in Saudi Arabia: Segregated, fragmented, along gender and class.
“I wanted to tell the story of those people and capture that tenderness,” she added.
And that she does with finesse. We see how the daughter ignores the scornful barbs of guests at the wedding and uses her imagination, like an independent movie director, to fix the power problem.
In the process, with one simple act, Al-Mansour once again creates an unlikely heroine.


Nadine Labaki, Rami Malek score Oscar nominations as race kicks off

Updated 22 January 2019
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Nadine Labaki, Rami Malek score Oscar nominations as race kicks off

DUBAI: The Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, with Lebanese director Nadine Labaki scoring a nomination for her film, “Capernaum.”

Meanwhile, American-Egyptian actor Rami Malek was nominated for “Leading Actor” for his role as Freddie Mercury in in Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while breakout star Mahershala Ali scored a “Supporting Actor” nomination for his role in “Green Book.” Ali made history for being reported as the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar in 2017, for his role in "Moonlight."

Actors Tracee Ellis Ross and Kumail Nanjiani announced the nominations at 5:20 a.m. in Los Angeles, as film critics, movie stars and producers and directors across the world set their alarms early to catch the eagerly-awaited submissions for Hollywood's most coveted awards.

The show will take place on Feb. 24 and will see Hollywood’s cream of the crop go head to head.

Labaki’s “Capernaum” was widely expected to be nominated as it has been well received by international critics.

The gritty film, which won the 2018 Cannes Jury Prize, centers on a poverty-stricken child who sues his parents in protest of the life they have given him. Last year’s Oscar entry from Lebanon, Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult,” also earned a nomination.

One of the most buzzed-about foreign language films this year, however, is “Roma” from Alfonso Cuaron — a black and white ode to his childhood in 1970s Mexico City that took home two Golden Globes, including best director.

The film was produced by streaming giant Netflix, which has come under criticism from its more traditional rivals for its strategy of massive online distribution of original content — and screenings in only a few cinemas.

“Roma” is the first Netflix film to vie for glory in major Oscar categories.

It was also nominated in the coveted “Best Film” category, alongside “Black Panther”

“BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favorite,” “Green Book,” “Roma” and “A Star is Born.”

Last year, the awards season was marked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and the birth of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements against sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace.

This year, multiple controversies are plaguing the Oscars — none of them related to last year's bombshell.

In August, the Academy — under fire for being too elitist — announced it would add a “best popular film” award. But many saw the new category as a booby prize for blockbusters like “Black Panther” that would keep them out of contention for top honors.

The plan was scrapped a month later.

Then actor-comedian Kevin Hart had perhaps the briefest tenure ever as Oscars host — a few days. He withdrew after homophobic tweets he had written years ago sparked a crippling backlash on social media.

Of course, on Oscars night, the focus will revert to the nominees and the red carpet glamor.

Key Nominations

Best Film

‘Black Panther’

‘BlacKkKlansman’

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

‘The Favorite’

‘Green Book’

‘Roma’

‘A Star is Born’

Vice

Best Foreign Language Film  

‘Capernaum’ (Lebanon)

‘Cold War’ (Poland)

‘Never Look Away’ (Germany)

‘Roma’ (Mexico)

‘Shoplifters’ (Japan)

Best Actor

Christian Bale, "Vice"

Bradley Cooper, "A Star Is Born"

Willem Dafoe, "At Eternity's Gate"

Rami Malek, "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Viggo Mortensen, "Green Book"

Best Actress 

Yalitza Aparicio, "Roma"

Glenn Close, "The Wife"

Olivia Colman, "The Favourite"

Lady Gaga, "A Star Is Born"

Melissa McCarthy, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"