Movie maestros: Who will win this year’s Academy Awards?

Movie maestros: Who will win this year’s Academy Awards?
The essential, beautiful “Nomadland” is the clear favorite to pick up the Best Picture award this year. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 April 2021

Movie maestros: Who will win this year’s Academy Awards?

Movie maestros: Who will win this year’s Academy Awards?
  • Arab News assesses the nominees for the major awards in next week’s Oscars

BEST PICTURE

 

The essential, beautiful “Nomadland” is the clear favorite to pick up the Best Picture award this year, and deservedly so. Chloé Zhao’s movie about a middle-aged woman forced to pack up her belongings in a van and travel the States looking for temporary work to make ends meet — and about the ‘tribe’ of van-lifers she meets on the way — is thought-provoking, moving and perfectly formed. It would be a huge shock if it doesn’t win. Among the what must be considered also-rans (although they’re all fine films in their own right), “Sound of Metal” — the story of a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing — would be a great left-field choice, but is surely a rank outsider, as is the excellent “The Father,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman in a heartbreaking portrayal of a father and daughter struggling to cope with dementia. The rape-revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman” has plenty of buzz about it, the bittersweet, gentle “Minari” is a wonderful movie, and David Fincher’s biographical drama “Mank” is a film about the film industry (and a very good one), which always plays well with the Academy. Another biopic, “Judas and the Black Messiah,” is a timely, superbly acted, examination of racial injustice. But if any film is going to pip “Nomadland” to this prize, it will likely be the powerful “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” a historical legal drama based on the legal proceedings against a group of anti-Vietnam war protestors written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring a stellar ensemble cast.

OUR PREDICTION: Nomadland

BEST ACTOR

The Academy will surely take the opportunity to posthumously honor Chadwick Boseman, one of the most talented, popular and acclaimed actors of his generation, who died of cancer last year. Fortunately for the voters, Boseman was great in his last role, as cocky jazz trumpeter Levee Green in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Among his fellow nominees, British veterans Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins are both deservedly recognized for their star turns in “Mank” and “The Father” respectively (with Hopkins’ performance just ahead, in our view), while Steven Yeun is selected for his perfectly pitched performance as a frustrated but loving father trying to build a working farm for his family. Perhaps Boseman’s biggest challenge will come from Riz Ahmed who, in “Sound of Metal,” displayed a subtle, nuanced range as well as some serious technical chops — learning to play the drums and ‘speak’ sign language for the movie. You have to expect, though, that Ahmed, like the others, will ultimately lost out to Boseman. And they’re probably fine with that.

OUR PREDICTION: Chadwick Boseman

BEST ACTRESS

This may be one of the hardest categories to call this year, with no clear favorite yet apparent. What is apparent is that all five nominees turned in stellar performances. It could be the category in which “Promising Young Woman” picks up a ‘major’ award — Carey Mulligan is excellent in the lead role, adding nuance and humanity to a character it would have been easy to play at full throttle throughout. Frances McDormand is just wonderful in “Nomadland,” but the role might (deliberately) lack the flashy touches that often grab the Academy’s attention. Viola Davis certainly can’t be accused of that — as the eponymous lead in “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom” she dazzles and transfixes with her presence and vocal chops. As does Andra Day in her debut feature film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” turning in an electrifying performance as the eponymous legendary singer. This talent-filled category is rounded out by Vanessa Kirby, recognized by the Academy for her heart-rending, all-too-believable portrayal of a woman who loses her baby at birth in “Pieces of a Woman.”

OUR PREDICTION: Viola Davis

BEST DIRECTOR

For the first time in its 93-year history, the Academy has two female nominees for best director. Could one of them become only the second woman to win the award (following Kathryn Bigelow’s triumph with “The Hurt Locker” in 2009)? We think so. Otherwise, this would be an enormous missed opportunity for the Academy to show that it’s making some effort to move with the times. Chloé Zhao’s fantastic “Nomadland” is, as mentioned, the favorite to win Best Picture, and while that’s no guarantee of landing this award, it certainly doesn’t hurt — and Zhao did an undeniably brilliant job. She deserves to win. The second female nominee is Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman.” It’s a very of-the-moment piece, and Fennell constructs it brilliantly, but being timely and socially relevant isn’t always a plus with the traditionally conservative Academy. Among the men, David Fincher might be feeling that his time has come. Widely recognized as one of the finest filmmakers of his generation, “Mank” has earned him his third nomination in this category. If anyone can beat Zhao to this year’s prize, it’s probably him. Both Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”) and Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) have made great movies, but it would be a big shock if either of them picked up the award this year.

OUR PREDICTION: Chloé Zhao

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM

The region’s hopes in this category lie with Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, nominated for her dark satire “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” in which a Syrian refugee desperate for money allows a famous artist to use his skin as a canvas for his latest work. But she faces stiff competition, not least from Best Director nominee Thomas Vinterberg’s meditative comedy-drama “Another Round.” The harrowing Bosnian war drama “Quo Vadis, Aida?” may be the latter’s closest contender, closely followed by Alexander Nanau’s “Collective,” a documentary thriller about a shocking health-care fraud in Romania. Kwok Cheung Tsang’s compelling crime romance “Better Days” is an outsider here.

OUR PREDICTION: “Another Round”

BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

The only other nominee from the Arab world at this year’s Oscars is “The Present,” directed by Farah Nabulsi and telling the story of a man in the West Bank searching for a gift for his wife, accompanied by his young daughter. It’s already picked up a BAFTA and would be a worthy winner. “Feeling Through” — a touching tale of connection between a DeafBlind man and a homeless teen; “The Letter Room” (starring Oscar Isaac); the hyper-timely “Two Distant Strangers,” about a young black man repeatedly confronted and killed by a white NYPD officer, and Israeli contender “White Eye” make this a tough, tough category to win.

OUR PREDICTION: “Two Distant Strangers”


Saudi actress Sumaya Rida personifies the zeitgeist of an era of change in the Kingdom

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi actress Sumaya Rida personifies the zeitgeist of an era of change in the Kingdom

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
  • Sumaya Rida is a rising star of Saudi Arabia’s fledgling domestic film industry, empowered by the Vision 2030 agenda  
  • Rida wants more investment in Saudi writers, producers and directors who can share the Kingdom’s stories with the world

DUBAI: Cinema returned to Saudi Arabia just three years ago, when a 35-year ban was finally lifted. Since then, movie theaters have been springing up across the Kingdom, invigorating the domestic film industry and inspiring a growing cast of homegrown actors.

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em” — among the first films to premiere in the Kingdom after legalization.

From early childhood, when she began performing in school plays, Rida knew what was her true calling. “I also used to make short films with my little sisters and brothers using my father’s Sony camera,” the 32-year-old told Arab News.

“I actually acted and directed short films when I was 12 years old. I loved how the whole family would gather to watch what I made, and to me it meant the whole world at that time, and filled me with passion.”

Saudi-born actress Sumaya Rida moved to the UK as a teenager to attend the King Fahad Academy, an elite independent school in the London borough of Ealing. (Supplied)

The Saudi-born actress moved to the UK as a teenager to attend the King Fahad Academy, an elite independent school in the London borough of Ealing. Even while completing an MSc in international marketing management at the University of Surrey, Rida kept up acting on the side, appearing in several commercials.

Following her studies, she spent five years in the world of business, but all the while felt a profound longing for the stage and screen. It took a chance encounter to set her on the right track.

“After working so much in the ruthless business world, I stumbled one day on Ali Al-Sumayin, a well-known, award-winning Saudi film and commercial director, who led me to the world of performing again,” Rida said.

While visiting Al-Sumayin at his office in Jeddah in 2017, Rida took part in an acting class. The familiar adrenaline rush of performing before an audience quickly came flooding back.

“I can’t describe the feeling,” she said. “I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach that day and I had this nostalgic feeling, so I told him I wanted a part in a show.”

Soon enough, Rida had recorded an audition and landed her first role. To prepare, she signed up for an intensive four-month acting course and one-to-one coaching with respected Turkish instructors, as advanced acting courses were not yet available in Saudi Arabia.

“In the Kingdom, we didn’t have any institutions for acting or performance training, so I had to do it the fast way,” Rida said.

“Every actor should have mentors, because they always direct you and show you different perspectives.”

From early childhood, when she began performing in school plays, Rida knew that acting was her true calling. (Supplied)

Today, Rida performs in both English and Arabic. For one show she had to master the bedouin accent. “It was a bit challenging in the beginning, but it was fun,” she said.

Her latest project is a movie called “Rupture,” a Saudi-made psychological thriller directed by Hamzah Kamal Jamjoom, produced by Ayman Kamal Khoja and funded by MBC Studios.

Playing the lead, Rida portrays the journey of a Saudi woman struggling to save her marriage, and ultimately her life, from a villain with a twisted mind.

“I played against Billy Zane from ‘Titanic’ who is both a wonderful human being and a tremendously talented actor,” she said.

“The movie intelligently incorporated a few powerful themes in its thrilling narrative. One of these was about standing up for your own cultural values, even when relocating to another country.

“Another was about the importance of privacy and the dangers of oversharing on social media, and the third was about the concept of striking a balance between co-dependency and individual freedom in a marriage.”

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Renowned Egyptian director Khairy Beshara says Saudi cinema has made a leap through the new generation of directors who are creating exceptional and brave films on a high artistic level. Click here for more.

For Rida, the most important part of the project was having the opportunity to play a strong, independent Muslim woman, standing up for herself, her family and her beliefs.

“It is honestly an honor and a rare opportunity to work with such gifted Saudi filmmakers and producers on this project,” she said.

“I’ve enjoyed Hamzah’s direction. His positive energy and passion were infectious. We will hopefully finish filming after Ramadan. I can’t wait to share this film. I’m excited because it’s one of the very few Saudi feature films that recognizes the struggles of Saudi women.”

The strict social codes and gender segregation of a much more conservative era meant that Saudi actresses were rare when Rida was growing up. Support from her family has been crucial, but so has been the opening up of Saudi society.

“The timing was very good because I started when Vision 2030 was taking place and I was going with it,” Rida said.

Under the Vision 2030 plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil, the Kingdom has placed greater emphasis on the arts, opportunities for young people and the social and economic empowerment of women.

Saudi Arabia has placed greater emphasis on the arts and opportunities for young people, and lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas in the Kingom three years ago. (AFP/File Photo)

As a result, Saudi women are finding their voices and discovering their strengths — a journey Rida says she found key to becoming a professional actress.

“This helped me to understand myself. I wanted to tell stories. We have a lot of stories here in Saudi Arabia, and I wanted to feel, to be able to emote, to risk and share, and to be courageous and vulnerable as an artist. This is very fulfilling.

“The real fulfilment also lies in overcoming all the limitations that have been placed on humanity.

“I discovered that performing is a very fun thing. It’s very nurturing, fulfilling and it feeds the soul and your inner self.”

As an artist, Rida is still on a journey of self-discovery and building her confidence on camera. She hopes to try new characters, to help her develop “naturally and sincerely, because acting is a continuous process — we keep learning and evolving constantly.”

As for her country, Rida says she is thrilled to see so many changes taking place and to be part of a new wave of young actors and filmmakers shaking up the Saudi film industry. “This makes me very happy and optimistic,” she said, but acknowledges there is still a long way to go.

As investment into nurturing talent in the Kingdom grows under Vision 2030, Sumaya Rida believes the future of Saudi filmmaking is a bright one. (AFP/File Photo)

“I see very passionate actors every now and then, but I really believe that we need to work on ourselves more than we think. It’s not just getting a degree in performing or acting and that’s it — it’s a continuous process.”

Rida also hopes to see more young Saudis coming forward to share their stories with the world. “We need to not only invest in actors but invest more in writers, producers and directors, because it’s not the job of one person alone,” she said.

“Acting is not only the actor you see on the screen. Behind that there is a huge production.”

Without investment, training and opportunities, this potential cannot be mastered. The raw ingredient, nevertheless, is talent — of which the new Saudi Arabia has in abundance.

“It’s unlimited,” said Rida. “It’s infinite and it keeps evolving.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer film

Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer film
Updated 07 May 2021

Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer film

Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer film
  • The acclaimed Egyptian screenwriter on her controversial career and her latest project about a pair of serial-killer sisters in early 20th-century Alexandria

DUBAI: Egyptian screenwriter Mariam Naoum has been sued three times for the films she has made. For her, that’s not a sore spot — it’s a badge of honor.

“It makes me stronger, actually,” she tells Arab News. “I don’t think, ‘Oh, I got sued. I have to be more careful.’ I think, ‘OK. I got sued. I must have tackled something that is bothering people. I must have embarrassed someone who needed to get embarrassed.’”

Now, Naoum is working with acclaimed Irish filmmaker Terry George on a film about twin serial killers in Egypt. George, an award-winning writer and director, has worked on such iconic films as “In the Name of the Father” (1993), “The Boxer” (1997), and “Hotel Rwanda” (2004).

The endeavor will see Naoum tackle one of Egypt’s most famous real-life stories — that of Raya and Sakina, the serial-killer sisters who wreaked havoc on Alexandria in the early 1900s.

Naoum remains one of Egypt’s preeminent firebrand writers. (Supplied)

It’s a story that has been told many times in many different ways in Egypt, but two things will distinguish Naoum’s upcoming adaptation. First and foremost, it will be made not just for an Egyptian audience, but a global one, with a planned rollout on international streaming platforms.

The screenwriter is no stranger to the scene, in fact It’s been more than 10 years since Naoum first turned industry heads with “One-Zero,” and she remains one of Egypt’s preeminent firebrand writers, one whose work enjoys critical acclaim and enduring popularity by focusing on issues facing everyday people, especially women.

Naoum, however, doesn’t push hot-button issues in her work in order to draw controversy. She does so to embolden those without a voice, and hopefully lay the groundwork for change. When “One-Zero” came out in 2009, Naoum was initially taken back by the lawsuit she was hit with for the film, but quickly realized that it was not a sign that she had failed at her mission.

“When I got sued, I was really shaking at first, but then I discovered that very few were actually against it. I actually reached people as I wanted, and they understood what I was talking about. A lot of people were supporting me. Then, at the box office, ‘One-Zero’ did very, very well. People really loved it because it was talking about them. So I said, ‘OK, I will follow my instinct. I will always have people that are against me, but I will put it behind my back,’” says Naoum.

While Naoum hasn’t been sued in six years, she doesn’t see this as a sign that her work has mellowed. If anything, she says, Egypt has begun to get used to her way of storytelling, and trust her voice and compassion for everyday people.

Her work, including 2019’s “Between Two Seas,” is written as accessibly as possible, in part to bridge the divide in prosperity and eductation between Egypt’s social classes. (Supplied)

In one particular controversy in 2015 for her TV series “Under Control,” Naoum tackled substance abuse, something that was initially misunderstood by some viewers as an endorsement rather than a condemnation. As the series went on, however, the feedback began to change.

“And at the end, they were, like, thanking me because I made them think about this issue that people don't want to think about. Because of social standards in Egypt, people are really in total denial about what's happening to their kids. Something may be in the street, but it's in your house, but you don't know about it because you're putting your head in the sand. I had to fight these preconceptions and, in the end, I succeeded.”

Since Naoum is primarily focused on the issues that plague her society rather than pointing blame at anyone in particular, she often garners criticism from multiple sides, because everyone — from conservative to liberal — has truths they don’t want to face about themselves.

“Our society is very rich with characters and stories,” Naoum says. “And it is very controversial to dive into the fact that we have a lot of double standards in our society. So you have very traditional people that are doing things that we cannot imagine they would do, and you have people who you think are very liberal, but there are still very harmful or backward ideas inside their heads. We have all these differences and contradictions, but that gives us richness as characters. Even though it might be negative, it is richness nonetheless.”

Terry George is the award-winning writer and director who has worked on such classic films as “In the Name of the Father” (1993), “The Boxer” (1997), and “Hotel Rwanda” (2004). (AFP)

First and foremost though, Naoum writes with everyday people in mind, not only as her subjects but as her audience. Her work, including “Under Control” and 2019’s “Between Two Seas,” is written as accessibly as possible, in part to bridge the divide in prosperity and eductation between Egypt’s social classes.

“I want to help less-educated people feel that they, too, are part of society — that they are heard, that they are seen, and that we feel what they feel,” says Naoum.

If Naoum has evolved as a writer, it is in showing more compassion to her characters, especially the men.

“I think, with experience and maturity, I learned how not to pass judgment on characters,” she says. “Instead of hitting my head against a topic, I learned how to maneuver, without losing what I want to say or the stories I want to tell.”

To create something that can be watched by audiences across the world, Naoum is collaborating with George who has spent his entire career unafraid to talk about hot-button topics.

Understanding the layers to Raya and Sakina’s story has been another development of her own maturity. (Supplied)

“I started writing a Raya and Sakina story maybe three years ago, but then dropped it. Then this year I was contacted to co-write with Terry on the project. The universe seemed to make everything fall into place. When I spoke to Terry, I saw he had this new vision about how the story could be told, and I have been working with him to tackle it from different angles to add more layers to the subject than has been done before,” says Naoum.

Understanding the layers to Raya and Sakina’s story has been another development of her own maturity, as she understands that even those painted as evil by society actually have a more nuanced story that demands to be told.

“Once you have the experience, then you can you can dig in depth into all the components of these characters, and you can find a way to even look at these characters through a feminist lens. When I was young, it was a story about serial killers. Then when you have a deeper look, you start to see how they developed into what they became. No one is born as a killer. There was a journey that led to these murders. We are working on understanding what happened, and how Raya and Sakina became killers,” she explains.

For once, however, Naoum will be making something not just to hold a mirror back up to her own society. With “The Alexandria Killings,” as the show will be called, in what is planned to be a true-crime anthology series produced by Dubai-based company Yalla Yalla, she will have the opportunity to speak to the world about her home country.

“I will be working with Terry to help figure out what those misconceptions even are. And if foreigners are seeing us a certain way, maybe we can change this a bit. This is such a new experience for me. I'm looking forward for it,” she says. “It’s a huge challenge, but I think it's finally time to do it.”


THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss
Updated 07 May 2021

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss
  • The Saudi painter, who made his debut at Art Dubai this year, discusses his artwork ‘Bright Pink Chasing The Blue Line’

DUBAI: This piece is so personal. It means a lot to me. I painted it recently, after my brother-in-law passed away. I usually treat art as therapy. The reason why I paint is to release this hidden energy within the soul  — the chaos within me. It’s a way of letting go of certain memories.

‘Bright Pink Chasing The Blue Line,’ Nasser Almulhim, 2021. (Supplied)

The first thing I did was to stretch a large canvas. I wanted to represent the beautiful memories between me and my brother-in-law and reflect what I’ve learned from his wisdom, brightness, and the love that he showed to his family. I even asked my young nephew Aziz to help me with this painting and to add his touches to the canvas to honor his father. There are flowers on the right side with funny childish colors. It was my nephew who painted them.

A lot of my paintings are pure abstract. I got influenced studying abroad in the United States, specifically by the New York school from back in the Sixties and Seventies — artists like Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. Recently, I’ve been trying to add a sense of life to my painting through items that I see at my house, my mother’s and my grandmother’s house. It’s nostalgic, bringing certain memories into the present moment. I wanted to make it as happy as I could by using bright colors that represent my inner soul.

Almulhim said the reason why he gives random titles to his paintings is because he wants the audience to question and react. (Supplied)

My brother-in-law, who lived in London, was into nature, health, antiques and vintage stuff. So that’s why I added a watermelon and vases. It adds part of his soul to this painting. I study the painting before I paint, but for this work, it felt more real; organic and raw. When I finished it, I felt alive.

The reason why I give random titles to my paintings is because I want the audience to question and react. When I finished the painting, I saw that most of the colors were pink, and I saw this blue line in the corner. I wanted to relate my soul and my brother-in-law’s soul. It’s like I’m chasing his brightness, his soul, to catch it if I can.


Maldives’ Ozen Reserve Bolifushi: Not just for honeymooners

Maldives’ Ozen Reserve Bolifushi: Not just for honeymooners
Updated 07 May 2021

Maldives’ Ozen Reserve Bolifushi: Not just for honeymooners

Maldives’ Ozen Reserve Bolifushi: Not just for honeymooners
  • Proof that the Maldives can do family-friendly getaways… and do them well

MALDIVES: There was a time when the Maldives was considered out of reach for the majority of us non-celeb types — reserved mostly for newlyweds who had been saving up for an exclusive and secluded honeymoon. But as social media took hold over the years, and flying became more accessible, the nation’s cluster of islands started to attract a more diverse set of travellers; from the young and budget-conscious to the family-fun seekers.

The recently launched Ozen Reserve Bolifushi is proof that the Maldives can offer an excellent family-friendly getaway.

Ozen Reserve Bolifushi is proof that the Maldives can offer an excellent family-friendly getaway. (Supplied)

Formerly the Jumeirah Vittaveli Maldives, this luxury five-star resort was taken over by Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts late last year and has since gone on to receive a high volume of bookings from the GCC. While travel restrictions haven’t eased in all areas, the Maldives has proven to be a popular choice with travellers based in the region due to the short-haul flights and strict safety precautions. For example, once on their hotel’s island, guests are not allowed to “hop” to other islands, and can only take a flight back home after testing negative.

But when you’re staying somewhere as beautiful as the Ozen Reserve, who needs to sail off to a neighbouring location?

The resort presents a special “floating” breakfast.  (Supplied)

Situated in South Male Atoll, the luxury resort is a quick catamaran trip from Velana International – staff are on hand to pick you up from the airport before taking you to a private lounge while luggage is loaded onto the boat. A 20-minute journey later, and you’re greeted at the resort with a traditional Maldivian welcome and water from a freshly-cut coconut.

So, what makes this a family-friendly resort, you ask? Well, the Ozen Reserve Bolifushi offers what they call an all-encompassing “Reserve” plan, meaning that almost everything is included in the price — from breakfast, lunch and dinner and all food and drink in your villa, to spa treatments, personal training sessions at the gym, and selected water sports.

What’s more, the resort is home to an open-air ice rink and the Kuda Koli Kids Klub. Judging by how much fun a couple of younger guests in our group were having, the club is without a doubt a winning attraction.

All the water villas at the resort offer direct access to the Indian Ocean. (Supplied)

This is not one of those resorts where you just end up lying around doing nothing (although, obviously, that’s an option). There are plenty of opportunities to get active and social. Guests can make use of a beautiful swimming pool in the middle of the resort, close to an all-day lounge, Ozar, that serves snacks and drinks and has a snooker table. Meanwhile, each villa has its own bikes parked outside for riding around the resort, and the gym offers 360-degree views of the beach.

Should you want to ramp up your activity level, there’s the chance to bring some watersports right to your villa’s doorstep. All the water villas at the resort offer direct access to the Indian Ocean (via a water slide, if you like). A spot of snorkelling is perfect in the morning but for those not keen on salt-water swimming, a private pool is also available.

Formerly the Jumeirah Vittaveli Maldives, this luxury five-star resort was taken over by Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts late last year. (Supplied)

Inside our water villa was a large double bedroom with separate seating area and en suite bathroom. Outside on the deck was a lounge area, with stairs leading to the water.

On our first morning, we were offered something a little quirky for breakfast. Rather than making our way to the all-day dining Vista Del Mar, we were presented with a special “floating” breakfast. A tray is set up in the private pool, on the water, with a delicious spread of breads, mezze, sushi, salmon and more laid out and left for you. This is definitely one that’s more for the photos than for convenience, as you’re essentially having a bite whilst standing up in the swimming pool. Plus, direct sunlight on sushi is probably not the best idea. Still, it was definitely a novel experience.

Sangu Beach serves up Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. (Supplied)

Among the resort’s other dining options, Origine is the place for seafood lovers, while Sangu Beach serves up Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Our favourite, however, was Tradition Saffron, where we sampled a delightful Indian thali.

While we managed to fit a lot into our short stay, the 48 hours we were there flew by and before we knew it, it was time to fly back. Given its distance from the airport, high-quality service, and the fact that guests can pay a single rate for everything, the Ozen Reserve Bolifushi is definitely one we’d recommend — especially if travelling as a family or a small group of friends.


Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s

Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s
Updated 06 May 2021

Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s

Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s

DUBAI: Rare highlights from Middle Eastern history, including a 1791 engraving showing a panoramic view of Makkah, will feature in auction house Sotheby’s travel, atlases, maps and natural history online sale.  

The 430 x 865 mm engraving — the largest of its kind produced at the time — depicts pilgrims from as far as the mountain of Arafat arriving for the Hajj, charting their journey into the holy city. 

The remarkable print has long been considered unobtainable, with only a few copies believed to have survived a fire in Pera in Istanbul in 1791. The engraving is estimated at £12,000-£18,000 ($16,700-$25,000). 

It was commissioned by the diplomat Ignace de Mouradja d’Ohsson, who had earlier published a grand account of the Ottoman empire from 1787-1790.

Other images of Makkah and Madinah are being auctioned at the Sotheby’s sale, which will end on May 13. 

Lot 105, Mecca and Medina  Two watercolour and gouache views, India, c.1840. (Supplied)

Another rare bidding is a photo book by French writer and photographer Maxime Du Camp, “Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie,” which features 112 images of Egypt, six of Jerusalem and seven of Baalbek.

The photographer, the son of a successful surgeon, traveled to Egypt in November 1849 at the age of 27 with his friend novelist Gustave Flaubert. Each longed to explore the Middle East and secured government commissions to fulfil their ambitions. 

Lot 93, Maxime Du Camp Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie. Dessins Photographiques. Paris, 1852. (Supplied)

During his trip, Du Camp took more than 200 photographs of about 60 different monuments and sites. Out of those, 125 were selected for publication, resulting in the present work, which was the first French book to be illustrated entirely with photographs. 

Another work reflecting the Arab world is an album of 144 photographs of scenes in and around Cairo in 1907 and 1908. 

The photographs include images of Sir Eldon Gorst (British consul-general to Egypt, 1907-11), Winston Churchill in Cairo, the ceremony of the Kiswah, and the funeral of Mustafa Kamil Pasha. 

The online auction is also presenting works featuring Saudi Arabia, Palestine and other countries in the region.