Arabic-language ‘Dollar’ on Netflix struggles to provide its worth

Amel Bouchoucha and Adel Karam star in ‘Dollar’ on Netflix. (Supplied)
Updated 11 August 2019

Arabic-language ‘Dollar’ on Netflix struggles to provide its worth

  • Unfortunately, “Dollar” often resembles an exaggerated, over-the-top Bollywood work

CHENNAI: A fast-expanding Netflix, eager to penetrate markets across continents, has been creating original content in, among other languages, Arabic. The latest is “Dollar,” a 15-episode web series by Syria's Samer Barqawi (“Al Hayba”). Dubbed and subtitled in several languages, the plotline is amazingly novel, with a bank circulating a currency bill in the streets of Beirut and promising to award a million dollars to whoever ends up with it at the end of a specified period. This, the bank feels, would be a brilliant promotion for its inauguration. 

In episode after episode, Dollar takes us through unbelievable moments with the bank's no-nonsense executive assistant, Zeina (played by Algerian-Lebanese actress Amel Bouchoucha), and an advertising wizard, Tarek (Lebanese comedian Adel Karam), chasing the piece of paper through the city. 

There are hilarious times, and there are tense minutes when the two are caught in a web of sticky situations. When the dollar – whose serial number is with Zeina – is transformed into a rose by a street magician but later discovered in his van, escapes the duo's reach, the disappointment merely firms up their never-say-die attitude. 

Zeina and Tarek's misadventures push them into a den of thugs, and Tarek almost loses his life. At other times, a desperate Zeina, who must somehow get her hands on her share of the prize money, a whopping half a million dollars, even agrees to belly-dance for a hardcore crime syndicate boss. After a trip to a beauty parlor, a movie set and a suicidal professor's house, the couple end up in a parking lot with the bill tantalisingly close. 

Barqawi does manage to weave a mind-boggling variety into his episodes, but the chapters are one too many to sustain uniform excellence. While Bouchoucha is expressive, reliving the pain and pathos of a callous fiance and constant disappointments, she tends to over-perform. And Karam, an otherwise intelligent actor whom we saw in the Lebanese film “The Insult,” which was nominated for an Oscar in 2018, appears too stiff as the man behind the bank's publicity plan who quickly turns into a ruthless pursuer of wealth. 

Unfortunately, “Dollar” often resembles an exaggerated, over-the-top Bollywood work, a tendency some recent Arab films made for the big screen have been able to avoid with fantastic results.

Cannes announces lineup for a festival canceled by COVID

Updated 04 June 2020

Cannes announces lineup for a festival canceled by COVID

From an empty movie theater in Paris, organizers of the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday announced the films that would have played at there in May had it not been canceled by the pandemic.

The selections were an exercise in what-might-have-been for Cannes, the international French festival that for the last 73 years has been one the most prestigious and glitzy annual gatherings of cinema. Cannes, originally slated for mid-May, initially considered postponing to July but ultimately gave up on a 2020 edition.

Hearing what would have premiered on the Crosiette this year offered a tantalizing picture of a canceled Cannes. Two films by “12 Years a Slave” filmmaker Steve McQueen — “Mangrove” and “Lover’s Rock” — had been headed to Cannes, said festival director Thierry Fremaux, as was Wes Anderson's “The French Dispatch” and Pete Docter’s Pixar film “Soul.”

Fremaux announced 56 movies that were selected from a record 2,067 submissions that poured in despite the health crisis. “I can see that film is alive and kicking,” said Fremaux, sitting on the stage of the UGC Normandie cinema in Paris alongside Cannes’ president, Pierre Lescure.

The selection announcement, usually made in an April press conference before teeming throngs of international journalists, was instead presented during a TV interview that streamed online and aired on Canal Plus. Lescure noted the unprecedented situation had some upside: It was much quieter and Fremaux didn’t have to fend off questions from various nations whose films were overlooked.

Fremaux didn’t distinguish between which films had been slated for its main selection, in which some 20-25 films compete for the Palme d’Or, the Un Certain Regard sidebar or out-of-competition premieres. Some films, he noted, opted to wait until next year’s Cannes.

The announced selection included 16 films directed by women, an increase of two from 2019. Cannes, where only one female filmmaker (Jane Campion) has ever won the Palme, has often come under criticism for not selecting more movies directed by women.

Spike Lee, whose previous film “BlacKKKlansman” premiered at Cannes, had been set to preside of the jury that would select Cannes' top prize. Last year, it went to Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” which went on to win best picture at the Academy Awards.

“This time, everyone will be able to give his or her own Palme d’Or,” Fremaux said.

Also among the selections: Francois Ozon’s “Summer of ’85”; Naomi Kawase’s “True Mothers”; Hong Sang-soo’s “Heaven”; Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round”; Maïwenn’s “DNA”; and Sang-ho Yeon’s “Peninsula.”

The films will be able to brand themselves as part of the official 2020 Cannes Film Festival selection. If accepted elsewhere, the films can still have their premieres at other fall festivals — should they happen — like those in Toronto, Telluride, New York and San Sebastian. The Cannes label will be particularly helpful for films from lesser-known filmmakers; 15 of the films announced Wednesday were directorial debuts.