The best movies of 2021 from the Arab world

The best movies of 2021 from the Arab world
‘Souad’ by Ayten Amin. Supplied
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Updated 03 January 2022

The best movies of 2021 from the Arab world

The best movies of 2021 from the Arab world

Dubai: From award-winning magical realism to a hard-hitting refugee thriller, read on for the films from Arab directors that grabbed our attention last year.

“Feathers”

Director: Omar El-Zohairy

Starring: Samy Bassouny, Mohamed Abd El-Hady, Fady Mina Fawszy

A woman’s husband is turned into a chicken, forcing her to take care of his family. When he comes back, she kills him. The story of Omar El-Zohairy’s award-winning debut feature feels ripped from a classic fairy tale — the Grimm kind that would keep you awake long after reading. It is not the premise of El-Zohairy’s hotly-debated masterpiece that has caused a stir, but what that premise allows him to do; depicting the suffering of women in rural parts of Egypt in excruciating reality, all stunningly shot by a visionary stylist with talent to spare. 

“Casablanca Beats”

Director: Nabil Ayouch

Starring: Anas Basbousi, Ismail Adouab, Zineb Boujemaa, Meryem Nekkach

In a working-class neighborhood of Casablanca, Morocco, sits a cultural center called the Positive School of Hip Hop. Many young Moroccans struggling with poverty and the myriad oppressive realities of modern society go there each day to create music, find their voice, and forge a pathway to happiness. Ayouch’s fictional film goes inside that real-life refuge to tell the story of a teacher named Anas who gives his students the space to pursue their dreams and express themselves freely. While the film does explore the sad and violent world the students inhabit, this is ultimately a hopeful, often joyous, affirmation of the power of music. 

“Souad”

Director: Ayten Amin

Starring: Bassant Ahmed, Basmala Elghaiesh, Hussein Ghanem, Hagar Mahmoud

For many young women in small cities in the Arab world, the only way that they can truly express themselves, communicate with the outside world, and discover their passions is through social media. Amin’s film explores the dual lives that those girls lead: The face they show their parents to meet the expectations put upon them, and the face they choose for themselves in the anonymous world of the internet. Shot with non-actors, the film feels both deeply considered and absolutely at ease, with Amin’s soft touch leaving a strong imprint. 

“Europa”

Director: Haiden Rashid

Starring: Adam Ali, Erfan Rashid, Gassid Mohammed

On the border between Turkey and Bulgaria, a young Iraqi refugee named Kamal (Adam Ali) thinks he is approaching freedom. As he gets close, his guides turn on him, forcing him to escape into the Bulgarian forest, where he is pursued by ruthless mercenaries known as ‘Migrant Hunters.’ Shot like a classic pulse-pounding thriller, with tight camera work, break-neck editing and sound, and an above-and-beyond performance from Ali, Rashid’s film is simple but effective as a thriller, and all the more haunting because of the disturbing reality that it depicts, leading viewers to imagine how many stories like it the world ignores each day. 

“The Man Who Sold His Skin”

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

Starring: Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci

The Tunisian director’s Oscar-nominated film enraptured audiences across the world, and it’s easy to see why. It follows Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni), a Syrian man forced to flee his country to Lebanon, where he meets a contemporary artist who pays him to become his next art piece, tattooing a Schengen visa on his back and then exhibiting him a museum in Brussels. Mahyani is electric throughout, and while the film’s final act undoes some of Ben Hania’s good work, the commentary on the dehumanizing nature of modern art and the global refugee crisis will haunt you. 

“Gaza Mon Amour”

Director: Tarzan Nasser

Starring: Salim Daw, Hiam Abbas, Maisa Abd Elhadi

Powerhouse actors Hiam Abbas (“Succession,” “Ramy”) and Salim Daw (“Tyrant,” “The Crown”) play two lonely people who fall in love. Daw plays Issa, a 60-year-old fisherman who is secretly in love with a woman who works at the market named Siham, whom he eventually works up the courage to pursue. What makes Nasser’s love story so affecting, beyond the stirring performances, is its setting — Gaza is front and center, with all the dystopic struggles its inhabitants endure, making a love that rises up through the cracks all the more touching. 

“Farha”

Director: Darin Sallam

Starring: Karam Taher, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman

Sallam’s powerful debut feature is set in Palestine in 1948 — during the horrors of the Nakba. Fourteen-year-old Farha’s dreams of attending a school in the city and escaping her small village are dashed when bombs start to fall and the life her family had known for generations begins to fall apart before her eyes. An instantly essential film in the Palestinian canon, Sallam’s haunting, gorgeous, devastating calling card signals great things to come. 

“Ghodwa”

Director: Dhafer L’Abidine

Starring: Dhafer L’Abidine, Ahmed Berrhouma, Najla Ben Abdallah

The hugely popular Tunisian actor Dhafer L’Aibidine may have left his homeland decades ago, but his heart, and his mind, never strayed beyond its borders. With his directorial debut, L’Aibidine goes both in front of and behind the camera to tell the story of a man named Habib who is haunted by the unhealed wounds of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution 10 years on, demanding justice for the victims of the previous regime in a country that would prefer to move on and forget. In some ways, he’s barely holding onto his sanity. In others, he’s the only one still sane. Carried by a knockout performance by L’Abidine, the film comes alive most in the relationship between Habib and his son, whose enduring concern for his father’s mental health is deeply affecting. 

“Captains of Zaatari”

Director: Ali El-Arabi

Starring: Mahmoud Dagher, Fawzi Qatleesh

In the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, two best friends dream of becoming professional footballers. El-Arabi’s documentary follows them as they are offered a life-changing opportunity: Places at a top football academy in the Gulf. The film reverberates with the heart of Mahmoud and Fawzi — with both their highs and lows, whether on the pitch or in the camp. especially as it remains unclear if they will be able to leave Zaatari for good.


Elton John positive for COVID-19, postpones Dallas shows

Elton John positive for COVID-19, postpones Dallas shows
Updated 26 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.”