Hany Abu-Assad has long been one of Palestine’s most lauded filmmakers, receiving an Oscar nomination for his now-classic 2005 film “Paradise Now,” and another for 2013’s “Omar.” Both movies chronicled men struggling under occupation, uncertain of how to best live their lives for themselves, their families, or their country. With “Huda’s Salon,” Abu-Assad returns to Palestine for the first time since 2015’s “The Idol” for another true story. This one focuses on the plight of Palestinian women, however, and has been labelled a ‘feminist thriller.’ Abu-Assad’s long-time collaborator Ali Suliman brings his trademark naturalism to the role of Hasan, but it is Maisa Abd Elhadi as Reem and Manal Awad as Huda who shine most brightly, as two women caught in a suspenseful game that pushes past the trappings of the male perspective with intention.
It is unlikely that any other Arab film this year will be as hotly debated as the feature debut of Omar El-Zohairy, the latest genuine visionary to emerge from the rich world of Egyptian cinema. With this absurdist satirical drama El-Zohairy has crafted a story in which the circumstances may not resemble our own — in “Feathers,” a woman is forced to support her family after her husband is turned into a chicken — but the struggles certainly do, as the magical realist concept gives way to an unflinching look at modern society, and the very real suffering of women in rural Egypt. Already a big winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the film has caused uproar in El-Zohairy’s home country, which may have denied it a potential Oscar-nomination. But doesn’t make it any less of a must-see on the Red Sea.
Morocco’s official submission for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards 2022, “Casablanca Beats” is a lively, often-joyous look into the country’s music culture, following a former rapper named Anas (Anas Basbousi) who takes a job at the Positive School of Hip Hop, a real-life cultural center in Casablanca. Anas’ non-traditional teaching techniques inspire his young students in ways they never thought possible, with each finding their own voice through rap, showing the intense spirit that can follow a dream ignited, as well as the pain of the societal realities that may get in the way.
Tunisia’s Dhafer L’Abidine has had a career full of twists and turns. Once a professional footballer in his homeland, he moved to London and found success in British film and television before becoming a massive star in Egypt. With “Ghodwa,” his directorial debut, L’Abidine has turned his attention back to Tunisia with a stark and serious look at the political challenges in modern Tunis. The story follows a father (played by L’Abidine) and son for whom Tunisia’s political past and present collide in ways neither is prepared for.
Ask any Egyptian director who inspired them to become a filmmaker and there’s one name that you will hear again and again: Youssef Chahine. Thirteen years on from his death, Chahine’s reputation as a chronicler of Egyptian life both big and small who showed generation after generation through his layered melodramas the many facets of what film could accomplish has only grown. If “The Choice” is your first venture into classic Egyptian cinema, you’ve picked a good place to start; this beautifully shot, thrilling adaptation of Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s novel is Chahine at his best.
‘The Lost Daughter’
Given their ubiquity, we may feel that we know the Gyllenhaal family all too well at this point, but “The Lost Daughter,” the directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal, shows there is plenty left to discover and that the hugely talented actor may also be one of her generation’s best filmmakers. Her adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name features another powerhouse performance from Oscar-winner Olivia Colman (“The Favorite”) and also gets the best out of Dakota Johnson, in this story of a woman who becomes obsessed with another woman while on holiday. It’s a film that becomes just as unsettling as you may expect from that premise.
This anthology weaves together stories from five different Saudi filmmakers — Sara Mesfer, Jawaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Hind Alfahhad and Fatima Al-Banawi — to show different sides of a changing Kingdom. For example, an 11-year-old girl arrives at her aunt’s house one day just before Friday prayers only to find that she can suddenly express everything she had been keeping secret from her conservative parents; a bride disappears on her wedding night; and a divorced mother grapples with an anxiety disorder. The stories are bold and uncompromising, showcasing women who are destined to shape the future of Saudi cinema in front of and behind the camera.
‘The Gravedigger’s Wife’
An audience hit at Cannes, this debut from the Finnish-Somali filmmaker Khadar Ayderus Ahmed follows a man in Djibouti who discovers his beloved, vivacious wife will die unless he can come up with $5,000 for emergency surgery — a sum he has little hope of accumulating. While this intimate film is small in scale, its heart is huge, and the film’s cultural specificity and assured direction make it stand out. It’s an inviting look into an unfamiliar world that is wholly relatable, with characters you won’t soon forget and just enough social satire to leave you with plenty to discuss.
Few composers have as outsized a reputation as the late Italian maestro Ennio Morricone, and with good reason — across the 500 films he helped bring to life through his music, many have become cultural milestones, including “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,” “The Thing,” and “Cinema Paradiso.” When Morricone passed away in 2020, the latter’s director, his old friend and collaborator Giuseppe Tornatore (head of the Red Sea Film Festival’s jury) gathered some of his most famous collaborators, including Quentin Tarantino and Clint Eastwood, for a look back at the life and work of a true genius, with all the joy and emotion that Tornatore and Morricone famously brought to the tear-stained finale of “Cinema Paradiso.”