Frances McDormand is the epitome of dignity in visually stunning, Oscar-tipped ‘Nomadland’

: Oscar-nominated actress Frances McDormand plays a disenfranchised widow in the film. Supplied
: Oscar-nominated actress Frances McDormand plays a disenfranchised widow in the film. Supplied
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Updated 06 April 2021

Frances McDormand is the epitome of dignity in visually stunning, Oscar-tipped ‘Nomadland’

: Oscar-nominated actress Frances McDormand plays a disenfranchised widow in the film. Supplied

CHENNAI: Oscar-nominated actress Frances McDormand plays a disenfranchised widow in “Nomadland,” where she takes to the road in a van after she loses her job in a mine, which shuts down in 2011. The Nevada town that depended on it crumbles, its zip code is binned. 

“Nomadland” has clinched several Academy Award nominations, including those for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director for Chloe Zhao. The first Chinese woman auteur with this recognition, Zhao had in her earlier two films — “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” and “The Rider” — created a romance with the American West, training her script and camera toward the magical landscape with its huge, thinly populated open places.




“Nomadland” has clinched several Academy Award nominations. Supplied

Zhao usually works with amateur actors, but in “Nomadland,” she makes a departure, and her choice of McDormand could not have been more brilliant. My first recollection of this wonderful actress is in “Fargo,” in which she is a police detective, whose heavily pregnant condition does not deter her from pursuing a man guilty of botching up the kidnapping of his own wife. 

Another work of McDormand — “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” — also revealed her riveting style. The rape and horrific murder of her teenage daughter leaves her shattered, but she is not one to be cowed down and with the local cops twiddling their thumbs, she takes it upon herself to find the culprit. 

It is the same kind of steely nerve she displays in “Nomadland,” where she is widowed in her early 60s. When her house provided by the mining company is taken away and the increasingly ghostly town begins to shed residents, Fern (McDormand) moves into her van. The sorrow of the loss of a lifelong partner and her vanishing home and town are poignantly portrayed by her, capturing the raw emotion of the painful transition.




The movie is based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction book “Nomadland: Surviving in the Twenty-First Century.” Supplied

She drives around the country taking up menial jobs, despite having the qualifications to work in teaching or administration positions. But with the disastrous economic scenario, nobody wants to hire someone her age. When close friends offer her a home, she refuses: “I’m not homeless, I’m just houseless. Not the same thing, right? Don’t worry about me.”

The movie, which premiered at Venice last year, is based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction book “Nomadland: Surviving in the Twenty-First Century.” The film closely follows the text, examining the hardship faced by some elderly Americans who are forced to live in vans and pick up odd jobs. The pathetic manner in which they are treated is heart-wrenching. Zhao captures the cruelty of this aspect of the US with admirable imagination, alternating between forceful and subtle depictions. Fern’s dignity and self-respect are remarkably handled, and the director uses many real-life drifters who play themselves. 

Working with her regular cinematographer, Joshua James Richards, Zhao scripts a story that mingles the elements of a feature with a documentary film. Picture postcards sceneries that include skies ready to welcome a sunset add to the visual richness of “Nomadland.” A work par excellence.


Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series

Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series

Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series

DUBAI: The 18th edition of the Abu Dhabi Festival (ADF), themed “The Future Starts Now,” kicked off on Tuesday, and to celebrate the launch of its Ramadan series, Saudi singer Marwan Fagi opened up the event with a virtual performance. 

The singer, who hails from Makkah, performed “Ateehu Fika” (Lost in You), a song he composed based on a poem by Lebanese poet Nada El-Hage, with music by Saudi musician Rami Basahih.

Composer, soprano and academic Hiba Al-Kawas produced and conducted the show and mentored Fagi, weaving together the singer’s natural high tones and soothing low tones. 

Fagi was accompanied by members of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance was streamed online on ADF’s digital platforms.

Members of the orchestra recorded the melody in the National Museum of Lebanon in Beirut, while Fagi recorded his voice in Al-Tayebat International City of Science and Knowledge, an Islamic heritage museum in Jeddah.

Fagi said in a released statement: “Being part of Abu Dhabi Festival is a great opportunity for me, given its cultural status on local, regional and global levels and its unique multicultural message of acceptance and openness, which positively serves the music industry in the Arab world. My current experience with ADF is unique and special because it is liberating from all traditional musical restrictions.”

The Ramadan series, titled “Human Fraternity: Dignity and Hope,” includes digital performances of over 25 songs and chants by Arab vocalists and creators, written by 11 poets and writers and performed by eight chanters and singers who are accompanied by 60 musicians.


‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan

‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan
‘Promising Young Woman’ has been nominated for a number of Oscars. Supplied
Updated 21 April 2021

‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan

‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan

CHENNAI: Director Emerald Fennell’s debut feature “Promising Young Woman” is in the Academy Awards race in a multitude of categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Penned by Fennell herself, it is Carey Mulligan’s work all the way, and she gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Ohio-based Cassandra Thomas.

A medical school dropout, Cassandra is 30 with no boyfriend and no real friends, much to the anxiety of her doting parents. Of course, there is a reason for this. Years ago, her med-school classmate. Al Monroe (Chris Lowell), sexually assaulted her best friend, Nina Fisher. A corrupt lawyer and the school’s uncaring administration let Monroe off and left him not feeling the faintest sense of remorse. Cassandra, a promising student, dropped out and withdrew from social life.

Against this backdrop, which is gradually revealed in the nearly two-hour movie, we watch Cassandra make a weekly trip to a bar until a “friendly” male attempts to take advantage of her inebriated state, before she reveals she is in perfect control of her faculties, having pretended to be tipsy to lull predators into a false sense of security.

The plot is extremely gripping. We watch with trepidation as Cassandra challenges men, who on the surface seem so jovial, friendly and highbrow — the ultimate “nice guys” — until the moment of reckoning, when they fail to do the right thing.

Director Emerald Fennell’s debut feature “Promising Young Woman” is in the Academy Awards race in a multitude of categories. Supplied

Cassandra’s life of solitude is upended, however, when she re-connects with Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham), an old classmate who finds a chink in her armor. The pair does have genuine chemistry — enough for a whole film on them.

“Promising Young Woman” is not about their romance, however. It is about Cassandra, it is about Mulligan, and audiences will be amazed to see her comic side in a film on such dark subject matter — it is a mesmeric performance.

The soundtrack is moody and meaningful — songs like “It’s Rainin’ Men” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” fill the air, as well as Paris Hilton’s cheery pop numbers that are foot-tapping but jarring.


UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards

UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards
Updated 21 April 2021

UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards

UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards

DUBAI: British actress Jameela Jamil, who is of Indian-Pakistani decent, is set to host the 25th edition of the Webby Awards, organizers announced this week. 

The event will be held virtually and winners will be announced on May 18. 

South Korean band BTS, US singer-songwriter Billie Eilish and rapper Cardi B are among a long list of nominees for the 2021 Webby Awards. 

The nominations also include Trevor Noah, Jennifer Garner, Kevin Bacon, Shaquille O'Neal, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Lawrence, James Corden, LeBron James, Stephen Colbert, Chris Evans, John Mayer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

The awards show, which was founded in 1996, celebrates excellence on the Internet, including websites, media and public relations, advertising, video, apps, mobile and voice, social, podcasts and games.


From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label
Updated 21 April 2021

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

DUBAI: A Cairo-born jewelry brand that has been running since 1923 must have quite a story to tell, with plenty of insight for up-and-coming designers to learn from.

Egyptian label El Baz Jewelry is a family business that has been on the market for almost a century, fueled by its evolving artistic vision and mastery of the complex art of jewelry making. 

Youssef El-Baz, one of the owners of the brand, spoke with Arab News about how jewelry design in the region has changed over the past 100 years and why he believes El Baz has endured, as well as the launch of his own brands, one of which he kickstarted in Barcelona. 

“In the past, people were keen on buying jewelry that… was chosen based on the material and the resale value, with little attention to the design,” said El-Baz.

“Today… the customers who want to buy jewelry are (more interested in) the design (rather) than the material,” he added.

However, the designer, who founded two other labels – Grace Jewelry and B Jewelry – believes some things in the industry will never change. 

“I believe what will never change about jewelry is the sentimental value it holds, like inheritance and the idea of passing on jewelry through generations,” he said.  “People hold their loved ones forever (by) wearing and keeping their (designs).”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Grace. (@graceyourjewelry)

When it comes to the brand’s longevity, El-Baz shared his thoughts on why the label has lasted.

“In jewelry, people are always looking for authenticity or people are always looking for high quality, because they are buying something precious … and taste for sure. If the brand is not developing and adapting to the different tastes that change during the years it will die out,” explained El-Baz.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Grace. (@graceyourjewelry)

On that note, in 2019, El-Baz launched his own brand, B Jewelry, during a spell in Barcelona and quickly followed it up with the launch of Grace Jewelry in 2020.

“I wanted to create a jewelry brand that was socially responsible. I felt like Grace can be the beginning of a change in an industry where people start brands that are environmentally aware through their designs, manufacturing and packaging.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by B Jewelry (@bjewelryworld)

El-Baz got the inspiration to open the Cairo-based label Grace when he was in Milan.

“We have a complete collection called For A Better Tomorrow, (where) every design is dedicated toward a good cause. We donate 10 percent of the sales toward a good cause.” 

El-Baz ships worldwide for all three brands. 


Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini
Syrian refugees and swimmers Yusra and Sarah Mardini pose for photographers with the trophy at the Bambi awards on Nov 17, 2016 in Berlin. AFP
Updated 21 April 2021

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

DUBAI: Netflix has announced that it has teamed up with Egyptian-Welsh director and screenwriter Sally El-Hosaini on a new film titled “The Swimmers,” based on the true story of Syrian refugees-turned-Olympians Sarah and Yusra Mardini.

The film tells the story of the two sisters and competitive swimmers and their miraculous journey as refugees from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Yusra competed as a swimmer as part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROT).

Lebanese actresses, and real-life sisters, Manal and Nathalie Issa will portray Yusra and Sarah Mardini in the upcoming movie.

They will be joined by Arab-Israeli actor Ali Suliman, Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek, Syrian actress Kinda Alloush and “The Good Karma Hospital” star James Krishna Floyd, who starred in El-Hosaini’s last film “My Brother the Devil,” which won the World Cinema Cinematography at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  

Rounding out the cast are German actor Matthias Schweighöfer and YouTube star Elmi Rashid Elmi.

The forthcoming film will be produced by Working Title’s Eric and Tim Bevan, Ali Jaafar and Tim Cole. Stephen Daldry is the executive producer.

“The Swimmers” is set to begin production this week, shooting in the UK, Turkey and Belgium.

It is slated for global release on Netflix in 2022.