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.”


Syrian arts, culture festival opens in London

Syrian arts, culture festival opens in London
Updated 1 min 44 sec ago

Syrian arts, culture festival opens in London

Syrian arts, culture festival opens in London

DUBAI: The Syrian Arts and Culture Festival, a new multidisciplinary event showcasing the country’s creative talents, has opened in London.

The inaugural event, running until Feb. 4, brings together established and emerging artists, filmmakers, performers, and musicians to offer audiences alternative narratives and perspectives on Syria, its people, and its culture.

The SACF is a project by Zamakan, a non-profit platform that aims to create opportunities for artists, cultural workers, and creatives from West Asia and North Africa, and Marsm, a London-based events company.

Upcoming events feature a performance by Syrian musician Ibrahim Keivo. (Syrian Arts and Culture Festival)

SACF is a transliteration of the Arabic word saqf, meaning roof or ceiling, a word which is also used to represent the limit of something. According to the website, the festival, “aspires to be a creative platform where limits can be pushed and boundaries are broken.”

For the opening night, the festival presented two solo performances by the acclaimed Syrian classical guitarist Ayman Jarjour and and Palestinian ney (a type of flute) virtuoso Faris Ishaq.

Upcoming events feature screenings of Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay’s movies, a traditional food workshop, and a performance by Syrian musician Ibrahim Keivo.


Meet Saudi beauty guru Hessa Alajaji: The face behind Han Makeup

Meet Saudi beauty guru Hessa Alajaji: The face behind Han Makeup
Updated 21 January 2022

Meet Saudi beauty guru Hessa Alajaji: The face behind Han Makeup

Meet Saudi beauty guru Hessa Alajaji: The face behind Han Makeup

DUBAI: Saudi makeup artist Hessa Alajaji’s beauty brand Han Makeup, which she has been working on since 2017, is finally here much to the delight of makeup aficionados. 

“Our goal is to have a brand that covers all the products that anyone would need when doing their makeup,” said the content creator who co-founded the brand in an interview with Arab News. “We have started with makeup brushes as we have noticed a lack of sets that give you the requirements that you need.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by HESSA ALAJAJI (@han.alajaji)

Alajaji first gained popularity on social media, where beauty lovers flocked to her Instagram account for creative shots of colorful, otherworldly makeup looks and sneak peaks of the artist’s life. With more than 35,000 followers on Instagram, it was time for the creative talent to translate her know-how into a business.  

The pandemic slowed down the artist’s production plan, but she said it allowed her to test the brushes with several leading makeup artists and users who “all praised the quality” of her set. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by HAN (@han.makeup)

Priced at 450 SAR, the set features 10 brushes that will help makeup lovers create knife-sharp eyeliner looks, natural looking eyebrows, and softly blended eyeshadows.

The set, which is made out of natural and synthetic hair, also has larger tools that can be used to contour, highlight, conceal or to apply foundation.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by HESSA ALAJAJI (@han.alajaji)

The feedback on her release “exceeded” her expectations. “Clients loved the brush set and we have been receiving amazing feedback. We love that our brushes were a part of the most memorable moments of our clients like their wedding day, engagement party, New Year’s Eve, etc.,” she said.

The Riyadh-based entrepreneur, who has collaborated with international brands like Sephora, is currently working on developing three new products. “We want to venture into cosmetics in 2022 and launch a few products,” she teased. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by HESSA ALAJAJI (@han.alajaji)

As of now, her products are not manufactured in Saudi Arabia, but the beauty guru said she hopes to produce her brand in her home country one day. 

“We secure different samples from factories across the world like Italy, Korea, China, etc., and we proceed with the best quality we get. Quality is the determining factor not location nor the “made in” label,” she added. 

Alajaji said she has always had a passion for arts. “That passion grew with me as I got older and I started discovering makeup when I was in high school. I fell in love with it from the beginning as it allowed me to express my creativity and art,” she said.


Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger discuss all-women spy flick ‘The 355’

Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger discuss all-women spy flick ‘The 355’
Updated 21 January 2022

Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger discuss all-women spy flick ‘The 355’

Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger discuss all-women spy flick ‘The 355’

LOS ANGELES: US actress Jessica Chastain’s “The 355” just hit theaters to mixed reviews and Arab News sat down with the star to hear more about the game-changing film. 

In early 2018, Chastain pitched studios on a movie about an all-female team of spies — four years later, she’s starring in it. 

Perhaps best known for her dramatic roles, the bombastic action of “The 355” is something of a departure for Chastain.

The story sees a team of spies from agencies around the world uniting to stop a dangerous enemy.

Perhaps best known for her dramatic roles, the bombastic action of “The 355” is something of a departure for Chastain. (YouTube)

“It was never my intention even with making this film to be an action star or that kind of sarcastic one-liner character that you would see in all these genre movies,” the actress, who stars as spy Mace Brown, told Arab News. “I like playing all different kinds of parts as we see in ‘The Eyes Of Tammy Faye’ or in ‘Scenes From a Marriage’ and I just want to do everything.”

The film had a lacklustre showing at the American box office and with critics who cited a generic plot, flat characters and uninventive action. Chastain, however, believes the movie is being held to unfair standards.

“The industry tends to be more critical of a film that may be an ensemble of women or about a group of people that aren’t often celebrated by this industry,” she said. 

“We’re living in a pandemic and there is no sense to anything that’s happening right now because people’s safety is the only thing that they care about. And we need to stop using the pandemic as a way to devalue the stories of others,” added Chastain. 

Co-star Diane Kruger, who plays the role of spy Marie Schmidt, said her cast members helped her to overcome the physical and emotional stress of filming only six months after having a baby.

“It became exhilarating, week after week feeling I was able to kick higher, lift heavier just feeling my body coming back and becoming stronger again and taking control over myself again,” Kruger said. “It felt really empowering. It’s a little silly to say, but it did feel like this movie in a way helped me get back to me.”


‘I’m carried by passion’: Syrian actress Kinda Alloush says as she discusses upcoming projects

‘I’m carried by passion’: Syrian actress Kinda Alloush says as she discusses upcoming projects
Updated 21 January 2022

‘I’m carried by passion’: Syrian actress Kinda Alloush says as she discusses upcoming projects

‘I’m carried by passion’: Syrian actress Kinda Alloush says as she discusses upcoming projects

DUBAI: It’s been five years since Kinda Alloush, one of the most popular actresses in the Arab world, decided to take a prolonged break for the first time in her career. She had dominated Syrian television in one decade and then Egyptian film and TV in the next, but Alloush had found, at the height of her fame, something that mattered more: The chance to start a family with her husband, Egyptian actor Amr Youssef.

Alloush, 39 and now the mother to a 3-year-old daughter named Hayat, has since returned to the screens both big and small, but while she is as popular as ever, the Syrian superstar is not the same person she was in the last phase of her acting journey. With each project she now takes, Alloush yearns for more, and she’s tired of playing it safe.

Alloush stars in “Sittat Bayt Al Ma’adi.” (Supplied)

“For a long time, I played roles that were very similar to each other. I’m not sure why — maybe I fit a type. Maybe it’s my face,” Alloush, who has long played the ‘good girl’, tells Arab News.

“Now, I don't want to just add a new film to my archive, I don’t want to just say ‘I did a new movie, it’s so successful, I’m so happy.’ That’s not what I'm looking for. What I’m looking for is to learn. It’s about how to really make yourself richer on a human level, not just the acting level. I want to go back to my country and to feel that I am now a different person,” Alloush continues.

Each role that she has taken since her break from acting has pushed her in a different direction, stretching muscles — physical, mental, and spiritual — that she didn’t know she had. Currently, she’s filming “Yellow Bus” in Abu Dhabi, an OSN Original about an Indian girl who goes missing after falling asleep on a school bus, and her mother’s search to find out the truth. Alloush plays Mira, the missing girl’s school principal.

Alloush is married to Egyptian actor Amr Youssef. (Supplied)

“I read maybe 10 pages of the script before I knew I had to be in this movie. It’s a human story that could have happened anywhere in the world. I assure you that if anyone watches this movie, they will feel the pain this family felt. And that is what happened to me; I felt the pain, I felt every detail written into this movie. And I felt that I wanted to be a part of this, no matter how busy my schedule was,” says Alloush.

The film also offers Alloush something none of her previous work has — the chance to act in a different language with a multi-cultural cast featuring Bollywood stars Tannishtha Chatterjee and Amit Sial along with an American director in Wendy Bednarz.

“It’s my first time acting in English. I’ve been doing this for more than 17 years in Syria and Egypt, but all my projects were in Arabic. I’ve spoken English for a long time, but it’s different to act in English rather than to just speak it. You need to be so real. I need to make you believe me, to make you feel what I’m feeling. And pushing myself to do that, opposite these amazing actors from different backgrounds and different styles, makes it such a rich and challenging experience,” says Alloush.

The actress stars in the upcoming Netflix original film “The Swimmers.” (Supplied)

And with Mira, Alloush is finally playing against type, abandoning her ‘good girl’ persona.

“Mira is really different. She’s a bit controversial. You can’t really put your finger on her. You need to finish the movie before you have a full view of her many layers. At the beginning, you’ll wonder, ‘Why did she react like this? Why did she do that?’ And your curiosity pays off as you learn more about her story. She’s so unlike anyone I’ve ever inhabited.”

Alloush, who already boasts 10 million followers on Instagram, will also soon be introduced to a wider audience than ever before when she stars in the upcoming Netflix original film “The Swimmers,” based on the real-life story of Sara and Yusra Mardini, the famed Syrian refugees-turned-Olympians. The film was written by BAFTA-winner Jack Thorne and directed by Egyptian filmmaker Sally El-Hosaini.

Alloush stars alongside Ahmed Ezz in 2012’s “El Maslaha.” (Supplied)

“‘The Swimmers’ is so interesting, because every bit of it is true to life, with all the characters still living, including these two famous swimmers. Although my character is pure Syrian, working with German actor Matthias Schweighöfer, Ali Suliman from Palestine, and Ahmed Malek from Egypt also brought a real multicultural spirit to the project, which made for a rich experience as well,” says Alloush.

While Alloush moved to Egypt just as the Syrian civil war began, the actress has devoted much of her free time to the refugee cause ever since, becoming a ‘High Profile Supporter’ of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In another upcoming film, entitled “Nuzooh” (Displacement), Alloush will tackle the country’s trauma from the civil war, giving perhaps the most harrowing experience of her career.

“It’s about a Syrian family, and it’s a very difficult, sensitive subject. We filmed it in Turkey,” she says. “While I’m from Syria, I didn’t live through the war in Syria. With this movie that I’ve just finished, I felt like I was living the war in every small detail. It was a really difficult experience unlike any I’ve had.”

While Alloush is testing her limits as an actor, she’s also never been more fulfilled by her craft.

“I’m collecting experiences. When I enter a new project, I feel like I am empty, and I want to fill myself in some way — to learn, to hear, to talk to people from a different culture,” she says. “I’m carried by passion. Maybe other people have a different approach, but for me, it’s about love. I want this to make me richer on a human level. And it is working.”

With each of her three upcoming movies, she hopes that audiences can take away just as much as she did.

“With a great movie, you feel that you traveled to another civilization. With this craft, I can take you there. I can open your eyes to a new horizon, a new space, and new stories that you've never heard about, and people that you've never met,” says Alloush. “Each of these (films) can do that, I believe.”


Review: ‘Brazen’ — bizarre romantic murder mystery combines the worst of both genres

Review: ‘Brazen’ — bizarre romantic murder mystery combines the worst of both genres
Updated 21 January 2022

Review: ‘Brazen’ — bizarre romantic murder mystery combines the worst of both genres

Review: ‘Brazen’ — bizarre romantic murder mystery combines the worst of both genres
  • Netflix adaptation of Nora Roberts’ novel is a nonsensical mess

LONDON: When Alyssa Milano was announced as the lead in Netflix’s adaptation of Nora Roberts’ novel, “Brazen Virtue,” the author reported that she was deluged with comments from fans infuriated that Milano’s liberal politics did not square with their own. Many even threatened to boycott the movie in retaliation. Roberts, to her credit, welcomed them to exercise their right to do so. As it turns out, giving “Brazen” a miss is absolutely the right thing to do — not because of Milano’s personal beliefs, but because it’s an awful film.

Milano stars as Grace, a bestselling crime-fiction author who receives a call from her sister Kathleen (Emilie Ullerup), asking her to come visit. Kathleen has left her creepy husband, kicked her addiction to prescription meds, and retrained as a teacher in a bid to get sole custody of her son. Grace gives her the thumbs up, and concentrates on flirting with Kathleen’s hunky cop neighbor Ed (Sam Page). But when Kathleen is killed, and Ed inexplicably winds up heading the case, Grace focuses her problem-solving skillset on her late sister’s murder.

Milano stars as Grace, a bestselling crime-fiction author who receives a call from her sister Kathleen (Emilie Ullerup), asking her to come visit. (Supplied)

This is the jumping-off point for so many of the film’s inconceivable narrative contortions. Why is Ed, the victim’s neighbor, the only homicide cop available? Why are the police happy to let the victim’s (unqualified) sister be so heavily involved? Why does nobody have any issue with the fact that the lead cop and the victim’s sister are constantly making googly eyes at each other? It’s absolute nonsense.

Milano and Page at least have the good grace to attempt a serious take on this joke of a script, even as “Brazen” — written by David Golden and directed by Monika Mitchell — asks them to plough through an increasingly ludicrous series of plot ‘twists’ and villain reveals. “Brazen” definitely achieves what it sets out to do — take a romance novel and cross it with a convoluted murder-mystery. That might sound like something approaching a compliment; it definitely isn’t intended that way.