Regional directors win big as Sundance wraps up

Saudi film ‘Dunya’s Day’ won an award at the festival. Image supplied
Updated 04 February 2019
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Regional directors win big as Sundance wraps up

DUBAI: The 2019 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday, but not before a handful of filmmakers from the Middle East were honored with prizes.

Announced on Sunda, the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to Danish filmmaker May El-Toukhy for her movie “Queen of Hearts,” which tells the uncomfortable story of a woman whojeopardizes both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences.

Meanwhile, two short films from the Middle East were recognized at the event on Jan. 29 at a ceremony in Park City, Utah, where the annual festival takes place.

The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to “Aziza,” a film listed as being from Syria and Lebanon. The 14-minute dynamic take on the life of Syrian refugees is a black comedy that tells the story of a husband who begins to teach his wife how to drive, all the while worrying about the lax laws of the road.

The film was directed by Soudade Kaadan, whose first feature fiction film “The Day I Lost My Shadow” was awarded The Lion of the Future award for best debut film at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Sundance’s Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction prize was awarded to a Saudi film, “Dunya's Day.”

Directed by Raed Alsemari, the 13-minute short film follows Dunya, who struggles to throw the perfect graduation soirée after her domestic help walk out in protest of her difficult attitude.

In January, “Dunya’s Day” made headlines for becoming the first Saudi film to premiere in Kingdom since cinemas re-opened last year.

By making a film with an all-female cast, Alsemari and the actors were keen to highlight the fact that Saudi women have stories that deserve to be told, and that films need not be driven by male characters. Inspired by classic Hollywood movies such as “Mean Girls” and “Heathers,” Alsemari wanted to put his own, Saudi twist on those stories.

“I wanted to tell a story about an Arab woman who was neither a victim nor a saint,” he said. “She’s in a position of power in the narrative. That was important for us,” Alsemari said at the screening in the Vox Cinema at Riyadh Park on Jan. 10.


Film Review: Movie master’s reflective study of ageing film director low on energy in ‘Pain and Glory’

“Pain and Glory” is a vaguely disguised autobiography. (Supplied)
Updated 16 June 2019
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Film Review: Movie master’s reflective study of ageing film director low on energy in ‘Pain and Glory’

CANNES: One of the most arresting qualities of movie masters such as Pedro Almodovar and Emir Kusturica is their boundless energy. But lose it, and film fans soon notice something is amiss.

While Serbian legend Kusturica still manages to keep his cinema bubbling with life, Spain’s Almodovar – pushing 70 years old and somewhat bogged down by physical ailments – appears to have taken his foot of the pedal in his latest outing, “Pain and Glory.”

The drama, about a film director reflecting on the choices he has made in life as past and present come crashing down around him, competed for the Cannes Palme d’Or and won best actor award for its hero, Antonio Banderas. The Spanish star is an alter ego of Almodovar himself – much like Indian actor Soumitra Chatterjee was of Satyajit Ray.

“Pain and Glory” is a vaguely disguised autobiography of Almodovar, revealing the anxieties rather than glories of the auteur’s chequered career.

His earlier works, such as “All About My Mother,” “Volver” and “Julieta,” were fantastic studies of Spanish society narrated with unbelievable vigor. Who can forget the opening scene of “Volver” in which dozens of widows, including Penelope Cruz’s character, are seen cleaning their husbands’ graves on a windswept morning?

“Pain and Glory” lacks this dynamism and is mostly ruminative.

Banderas plays film director, Salvador Mallo, a step-down role from his usual dashing screen image. Mallo has not made any movies for years but has enough money to lead a comfortable life surrounded by expensive artefacts.

However, he suffers with depression and worries about his headaches, back pain and a tendency to choke on his food. But a chance meeting with old acting friend Zulema (Cecilia Roth), leads Mallo to get in touch again with film star, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), after the two had fallen out during a shoot.

When Crespo introduces Mallo to heroin, he remembers an old script titled “Addiction” and asks Crespo to perform it on stage. In doing so, Mallo opens the curtain on a new life.

In a way, “Pain and Glory” talks about how to come to terms with death, but it is also witty and about lovers and mothers.

Almodovar is such a master craftsman that he does not allow his work to sink into self-indulgence. It is a movie within a movie, and a dream that leads to another.

Most importantly, Almodovar could not have found a better actor than Banderas, who transforms splendidly into Mallo.