The hottest tickets at the Red Sea International Film Festival

The hottest tickets at the Red Sea International Film Festival
With “Ghodwa,” his directorial debut, Dhafer L’Abidine has turned his attention back to Tunisia with a stark and serious look at the political challenges in modern Tunis. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 December 2021

The hottest tickets at the Red Sea International Film Festival

The hottest tickets at the Red Sea International Film Festival
  • Must-see movies at the long-awaited inaugural edition of Saudi Arabia’s first major film festival, which starts December 6

‘Huda’s Salon’

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.

‘Feathers’

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.

‘Casablanca Beats’

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.

‘Ghodwa’

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.

‘The Choice’

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.

‘Becoming’

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.

‘Ennio’

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.”


Elton John positive for Covid-19, postpones Dallas shows

Elton John positive for Covid-19, postpones Dallas shows
Updated 25 January 2022

Elton John positive for Covid-19, postpones Dallas shows

Elton John positive for Covid-19, postpones Dallas shows
  • "I'm so sorry to anyone who's been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe," said John
  • The concerts, part of John's "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour, were scheduled for January 25 and January 26

NEW YOTK: Pop megastar Elton John on Tuesday postponed two concerts in Dallas — part of what is expected to be a lengthy farewell tour — after testing positive for Covid-19.
“It’s always a massive disappointment to move shows and I’m so sorry to anyone who’s been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe,” said the British musician, 74, in a statement on social media.
“Fortunately, I’m fully vaccinated and boosted and my symptoms are mild.”
The concerts, part of John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, were scheduled for January 25 and January 26. Both John and the American Airlines Center, where the shows were to take place, said they will be rescheduled and fans should keep their tickets.
John said he expected to be healthy enough to play his show on January 29 in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The tour, which is anticipated to be Sir Elton’s last, has run into pandemic-era cancelations and postponements, like many other performing arts events.
The pop legend also recently had a hip operation that forced him to push back several dates.
Last year, John released an album entitled “The Lockdown Sessions,” which was recorded entirely under Covid-19 restrictions.


Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban

Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban
Updated 25 January 2022

Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban

Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban
  • Afghanistan's rich musical culture is under threat as the Taliban have banned music since their return to power last year
  • "Right now we don't have music in Afghanistan," says Homayoun Sakhi

LONDON: Homayoun Sakhi closes his eyes and runs his fingers along the long neck of his wooden instrument encrusted with mother-of-pearl.
“I feel like I have my Afghanistan in my hand,” says Sakhi, one of the world’s most renowned performers on the country’s national instrument, the rubab.
He is jet-lagged after flying in from California to perform at London’s Barbican concert hall to raise funds for emergency medicine and education in his homeland.
Along with the growing humanitarian crisis, Afghanistan’s rich musical culture is under threat as the Taliban have banned music since their return to power last year.
Widely shared videos have shown them smashing and burning instruments. Musicians have fled the country.
“Right now we don’t have music in Afghanistan,” says Sakhi.
“It’s really difficult because there are no concerts, there’s no music, and (for musicians) it’s very difficult to be without any money and without a job.
“That’s why they’re trying to go somewhere to play.”
The Taliban clampdown is a repeat of the hard-liners’ previous time in power between 1996 and 2001, when they banned music as sinful, under a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The rubab dates back thousands of years and has enjoyed a revival thanks to Sakhi, who is known as a musical innovator and has developed a more modern playing style.
BBC Music Magazine called him “one of the greatest performers” on the instrument.
Born in Kabul, he left Afghanistan with his family in 1992, in the chaotic aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, moving to Pakistan.
He later settled in Fremont, California, which is known for its large Afghan community, and has launched an academy teaching the rubab.
“Each time I’m playing, I’m home, I feel like I’m in Afghanistan,” he says.
Music including pop was allowed a free rein during the past two decades in Afghanistan, with local television even showing a “Pop Idol” talent contest equivalent.
But following the Taliban’s return to power, traditional Afghan music now relies on devotees overseas.
The “Songs of Hope” concert at the Barbican last Saturday was organized by Afghanistan International TV.
The London-based channel was set up by Volant media company, which also runs a Persian-language channel for Iranians.
It will screen a documentary about the concert in March.
In the first half, Sakhi plays classical Afghan pieces, followed by folk music that gets the audience clapping along.
He performs with UK-based virtuoso Shahbaz Hussain on tabla and Iranian musician Adib Rostami on the kamancheh, a bowed string instrument.
“I had the idea to do the concert — that was the only thing I can do as a musician,” said Rostami, one of the event’s organizers.
“As we know, now the music is banned in Afghanistan — they cannot ban this from the people around the world.”
“We have to try as musicians, as music lovers, to find a way to keep this cultural heritage for the future.”
The current situation for musicians under the Taliban is “back in the 1990s,” he says.
“Again, you cannot be a musician in Afghanistan.
“As far as I know, most of the musicians... are trying to get out of the country.”
A group of students and teachers from a national music school in Kabul arrived as refugees in Portugal in December, after the Taliban’s takeover earlier last year.
Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra, Zohra, set up in 2016 and named after a Persian goddess of music, has moved to Qatar.


Review: Now on Netflix, WWII spy drama ‘Munich – The Edge of War’ is a mixed bag

Review: Now on Netflix, WWII spy drama ‘Munich – The Edge of War’ is a mixed bag
Updated 25 January 2022

Review: Now on Netflix, WWII spy drama ‘Munich – The Edge of War’ is a mixed bag

Review: Now on Netflix, WWII spy drama ‘Munich – The Edge of War’ is a mixed bag

CHENNAI: After innumerable World War II-focused movies, Christian Schwochow’s “Munich – The Edge of War” is somewhat of a welcome relief worth savoring. The work, based on Robert Harris's novel “Munich,” begins in a delightfully happy atmospheric mood in 1932 with Oxford students celebrating graduation with music and mirth. As the camera zooms in on three close friends – Hugh Legat (George MacKay), Paul Von Hartman (Janis Niewohner) and Lenya (Liv Lisa Fries) – we sense a whiff of what is come, the dark days of Adolf Hitler's (played here by a nasty looking Ulrich Matthes) expansionist plans to take over all of Europe. 

The movie follows three close friends – Hugh Legat (George MacKay), Paul Von Hartman (Janis Niewohner) and Lenya (Liv Lisa Fries). Supplied

After taking the audience to a dread-filled London six years later, Schwochow’s film then veers into the thriller genre, focusing on how Paul and Hugh, now working in government offices in Germany and England respectively, try their best to stop a war that eventually led, as we all know, to catastrophic consequences. Mainly about the 1938 Munich conference and its thwarted peace agreement between the two countries, Munich – The Edge of War beyond this is a fictional account of how the two friends turn spies. Once a passionate advocate of Hitler and his Nazi party with Paul arguing at Oxford how the Germans badly needed an identity that the Fuhrer promised, the young man is later disillusioned by and angry at the way things are turning out. At his brief meeting with Chamberlain, Paul says that it will be a mistake to sign a peace treaty with Hitler, who is nothing but a monster.

The work is based on Robert Harris's novel “Munich.” Supplied

A handsome spy story, it is set in plush offices and pretty gardens (with gorgeous production design by Tim Pannen) where the friends have their rendezvous, often exchanging information and highly classified documents. 

The movie has some tense moments, particularly when Hugh tries to pass off vital information to his prime minister, but on the flip side, “Munich – The Edge of War” can be a little too academic, a trifle too contrived. There is not much to talk about the two lead players — MacKay and Niewohner — who seem more caricatured than real, although Fries is sparkling in the initial sequences conveying a carefree mood that permeated Britain's campuses in the early 1930s. 


US singer-designer Pharrell slammed over accessory’s similarities to Mughal antiques

US singer-designer Pharrell slammed over accessory’s similarities to Mughal antiques
Updated 25 January 2022

US singer-designer Pharrell slammed over accessory’s similarities to Mughal antiques

US singer-designer Pharrell slammed over accessory’s similarities to Mughal antiques

DUBAI: US singer Pharrell Wiliams attended Kenzo’s Spring 2022 show during Paris Fashion Week and simultaneously teased his new partnership with fine jewelry house Tiffany & Co.

The N.E.R.D singer sat front row, next to Kenzo’s new creative director Nigo, donning a pair of diamond-embellished sunglasses that got everyone talking — but not for the right reasons.

Users on social media, including online fashion watchdog Diet Prada, took to the photo-sharing platform to point out the striking similarities between Pharrell’s custom sunglasses and historical Mughal antiques.  

The antiques in question are two pairs of frames dating back to the 17th century that were put up for auction last year by Sotheby’s.

Belonging to the Mughal royals that ruled the Indian subcontinent, the extremely rare Islamic antiques feature emerald-cut lenses and were created to aid a wearer in reaching enlightenment and heal and ward off evil, according to the Sotheby’s website.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Diet Prad (@diet_prada)

Legend has it that following the death of Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal, in whose honor the Taj Mahal was built, the emperor is said to have cried so many tears that he needed to cure his ailing eyes with emerald stones.

“These extraordinary curiosities bring together myriad threads – from the technical mastery of the cutter and the genius of craftsmanship to the vision of a patron who chose to fashion two pairs of eyeglasses quite unlike anything ever seen before,” said Edward Gibbs, chair, Sotheby’s Middle East & India, ahead of the London auction last year.

The Mughal bejeweled spectacles were commissioned by an unknown prince and fashioned by an artist, who shaped a 200-carat diamond and a brilliant Colombian emerald, weighing at least three hundred carats, into two frames.

Now, social media users are slamming the US singer-designer for the similar shades, although Pharrell has yet to respond to the backlash.


Saudi Arabia’s NEOM advert among nominees for Art Directors Guild Awards in Hollywood

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM advert among nominees for Art Directors Guild Awards in Hollywood
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM advert among nominees for Art Directors Guild Awards in Hollywood

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM advert among nominees for Art Directors Guild Awards in Hollywood

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s “NEOM: ‘Made to Change’” advert is nominated for the 26th Art Directors Guild Awards, organizers announced on Monday. 

The live in-person event, scheduled to be held on March 5 in Los Angeles, honors production design in theatrical motion pictures, music videos, animated feature films, television shows and commercials.

The 90-second video shows how the $500 billion smart city in the Tabuk Province of northwestern Saudi Arabia will accelerate the human drive for progress through technology, energy, sustainability, mobility and more. 

The commercial’s production designer is François Audouy.

Among the nominees for the commercials category is “Gucci: ‘Aria,’” “Apple Music: ‘Billie Eilish — Happier Than Ever,’” “Apple: Introducing iPhone 13 Pro” and more. 

“Dune,” the science-fiction epic shot in Abu Dhabi, earned recognition in the fantasy feature film category, alongside “Cruella,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” and “The Green Knight.”