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.
“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.”
“Back at it, this time in the one and only @festivaldecannes and I am happy to say the vibe and energy of this one is spectacular,” Albanawi wrote on Instagram.
The actress rose to fame in 2016 for her role in the award-winning movie “Barakah Meets Barakah,” which won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was also the Saudi Arabian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards.
Albanawi’s other credits include playing a Parisian actress from the ’70s in the film “Roll’em” and a selfish theater superstar in the “Bashar” series. She also appeared in the Netflix series “Paranormal.”
She was not the only star at Cannes to step out in a Kali creation.
On Thursday, the designer shared a picture of German model Ann-Sophie Thieme wearing a bright green gown embroidered with crystals against a tulle frill cape as she attended the screening of US filmmaker James Gray’s “Armageddon Time.”
The festival, which runs until May 28, also saw several Hollywood celebrities and international models stepping out in showstopping gowns by Arab designers like Elie Saab, Nicolas Jebran, Tony Ward, Zuhair Murad and Atelier Zuhra.
French model Amandine Petit, Danish catwalk star Josephine Skriver and Indian actress Hina Khan wore colorful royal gowns by Syrian designer Rami Al-Ali.
Other Arab celebrities, including Lebanese reality TV star Alice Abdelaziz and French-Tunisian model, singer and actress Sonia Ben Ammar, were also spotted on the red carpet this week.
Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise
Updated 20 May 2022
LOS ANGELES: “Top Gun: Maverick” takes audiences back to the danger zone with more high-flying action and the return of US actor Tom Cruise to his 1986 star-making role.
Similar to the pilots it showcases, critics are calling the movie the best of the best and an exceptional successor to the original.
In an interview with Arab News, American actor Jon Hamm, who joined the cast as Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, said that the team working on the movie had “tremendous respect for the original and a real deep desire to make a second chapter of the story that’s just as compelling as the first.”
Hamm recalled watching the first film when he was 15 years old. “I remember immediately after seeing it, I wanted to see it again.”
After decades of avoiding promotion, Navy test pilot “Maverick” Mitchell is ordered to train a squad of young Top Gun pilots.
Cruise and the cast of newcomers bring charm and emotion to the film particularly in the strained relationship between Maverick and Rooster, the son of his late best friend.
The actors in the movie credited Cruise’s well-established career saying that his 40-year experience helped them shoot the flick smoothly.
Actor Glen Powell, who stars as Lt. “Hangman” Seresin, said: “Tom Cruise put together our entire flight training program based on his experience on the first movie.
“So, the first movie they threw actors up there trying to get shots, but the problem is they’re vomiting and passing out and they’re just limp dolls in the back of a plane. So, you can’t use any of that footage.
“That’s only something Tom Cruise can ask for after a 40-year career of doing it at the highest level, so we get to look cool in the back of these F-18s,” Powell added.
Actor Miles Teller, who plays Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, said: “What an audience has been feeling for two hours, he can sum up in one look, and that is something that Tom really is a master of.
“He’s just been doing it at such a high level for such a long time and so I would just find myself sitting back and watching him,” Teller added.
“Top Gun: Maverick” premiered this week at the Cannes Film Festival, where Tom Cruise was lauded with a surprise Palme d’Or.
The movie will be released in Saudi Arabia on May 26.
Cannes Film Festival: Saudi Arabia’s pavilion pulls out all stops
Updated 20 May 2022
CANNES: The Saudi Pavilion at the 75th Cannes Film Festival has become a hub for fruitful international partnerships in film production while providing an immersive cultural journey through its many hosted masterclasses, meet and greets, and networking events.
“We are thrilled to return to the Cannes Film Festival to connect with the international film industry to build awareness around what is happening in our flourishing creative sector and to showcase the country as a truly unique and exciting film destination,” Abdullah Al-Eyaf, chief executive officer of the Saudi Film Commission said.
Located at the edge of the International Village in Cannes, the Saudi Pavilion is one of the largest pavilions this year.
An extension of the rich heritage of the Kingdom, it provides a step into the cultural identity of the country.
Between each historical landmark in AlUla, the hidden alleyways of Al-Balad in Jeddah, to the bright and flourishing roses of Taif, Saudi Arabia has 13 provinces with unique landscapes, cultures, and terrains that completely set it apart from the region bordering it.
These diverse locations have quickly sparked conversations among film and production enthusiasts in the first three days of the festival in the French resort.
The Kingdom’s pavilion not only aims to enrich the festival with the Saudi culture but create a link for future collaborations within the Kingdom’s growing film market.
“This is an exciting time for Saudi Arabia, and Cannes provides a crucial opportunity for us to maximize opportunities as we drive the rapid growth of the industry,” Al-Eyaf added.
From the first steps into the pavilion, visitors are embraced by the Saudi culture and warm hospitality through a cup of Saudi coffee. The Kingdom marked the year 2022 as the Year of Saudi Coffee, in celebration of the deeply rooted cultural identity of the Kingdom.
Along with a beautiful view overlooking the French Riviera, the Saudi Pavilion has three private meeting spaces for producers, investors, and filmmakers to meet and discuss new collaborations.
The pavilion kicked off the festival celebrations with meet-and-greet events, mocktail happy hours, and masterclasses for all visitors to take part in.
On Wednesday, the pavilion hosted a media masterclass with Emma Pritchard, a BBC News journalist, to discuss the arts and media coverage of the Cannes Film Festival.
Pritchard was previously invited by the Saudi Film Commission to host a masterclass for Saudi movie directors through navigating the media and press.
“They asked me back just to do another masterclass this year in Cannes and just to talk about navigating the Cannes Film Festival which I was really happy to do,” Pritchard told Arab News.
The seasoned journalist has covered the festival for around two decades and was happy to share her insights in the Saudi Pavilion-hosted masterclass.
“It was really nice, it was informal people, just really eager I think as well, all pleasant and friendly,” she said.
“It was really interesting because I was talking to journalists about the side of covering the Cannes Film Festival which is such a huge film festival to navigate and I’m coming up to 20 years of covering the film festival,” she added.
Later that evening, the pavilion also hosted a Meet the Saudi Film Industry mocktail event to welcome some of the Kingdom’s producers and filmmakers.
On Thursday morning the pavilion continued the festivities with a panel conversation with Saudi talents that was followed by an industry lunch hosted by the Saudi Film Commission.
During the lunch, many regional and international filmmakers attended to gain better insights into the Kingdom as a global location for filmmaking and the film industry.
The Saudi Pavilion started the weekend celebrations with another industry lunch hosted by the Red Sea Film Festival at Carlton Beach and an evening networking cocktail event hosted by NEOM.
Along with the lunches and networking events, many Saudi actors popped by throughout the days of the pavilion to meet and discuss collaborations with some of the major international entities in the film industry.
Names included Yasir Al-Saggaf and Fatima Albanawi who both recently appeared in the Saudi-produced film “Champions.”
Albawani said: “Being here in the Saudi Pavilion, it is one hub that connects everyone and joins everyone and it’s nice to have these chats and open opportunities for future projects.
“I do have a feature film that is in pre-production and it’s very important for me to look for counterparts and co-productions in Europe,” she added.
The Saudi Film Commission partnered with 11 other Saudi entities including Film AlUla, Ithra by Aramco, NEOM, the Red Sea International Film Festival, and many more dealing with production, distribution, content creation, and talent development in the pavilion.
Lebanese designer Alexandra Hakim using natural resources to make jewelry
Updated 20 May 2022
BEIRUT: Lebanese designer Alexandra Hakim has revealed her natural approach to her sustainable jewelry brand.
The mastermind behind the label Alexandra Hakim, told Arab News that she started the brand as a student, finding inspiration from materials in her studio such as sandpaper and matchsticks in ashtrays.
The jewelry maker tried to recreate the elements and turn them into wearable sparkly jewels to give each item a “different and completely unique touch.
She said: “I made my first collection at school based on matchsticks and I found beauty in the way that they are consumed every time in different ways. I took those fragile wooden pieces and I tried to transform them into earrings and create unique pieces of playful earrings and necklaces.”
Hakim also speaks to local workers in Lebanon to support different crafts.
“I have talked to fishermen, farmers, and different craftsmen about their work, and I try to integrate it into mine. So, for example, I would take any rubbish that a fisherman I met called Bob would find in his nets – because there is barely any fish left in the sea today. So, I made a collection based on that.
“I also used pearls to make the connection between the rubbish from the sea and the jewels,” she added.
Describing her brand as a mix of luxury and contemporary jewelry, Hakim said: “I feel like my brand is about inclusivity, sustainability. It’s about making jewelry that is good for the planet. It’s about limiting waste and making women and men feel empowered.”
Selected works from the 2022 edition of the show dedicated to artists from the MENA region, which runs until May 22 in the French capital
Updated 20 May 2022
Melehi features in one of MENART’s special exhibitions, “Casablanca School,” which “attempts to capture the inspiration that this movement launched between 1962 and 1971” in Morocco. “The Casablanca school was not limited to an architectural context nor the educational program of an art school. It was above all a movement in search of artistic and cultural modernity specific to Morocco. It was a socio-cultural positioning that challenged the Academic system of art education and the Euro-centered art history,” the MENART catalogue explains. “This group of artists engaged in a study bringing back the practice of traditional geometric abstraction and the use of signs and symbols characteristic to their Berber, Arab-Muslim, and African social culture. In addition, they used materials of their surroundings such as leather, metal, and natural pigments as their mediums.” Melehi, who died in 2020, was an iconic figure in North African modernism, his use of bright colors and geometric forms — as shown in this piece from 1975 — creating a dynamic style of his own.
The Bahrain-born Saudi artist’s career spans five decades, during which he has experimented with photography, painting, sculpture, film, and performance. He is widely regarded as a pioneer of conceptual art in the Middle East, and his work has progressed from expressionism, through “emotive and sensory approaches to art” to a stage where, according to a bio from his gallery, “he has rebelled against his own understanding of art, transitioning into new works that maintain three essential concepts: spontaneity, dynamism, and secrecy.” This untitled diptych, created this year, demonstrates one of Samra’s recurring themes, as he once explained to Elan magazine. “Dissolving is a big thing in my work,” Samra said. “Because we are temporary as humans; we appear then disappear. It is because of this that we want to make things; we want to make a mark. This tension between death and life gives us the motivation to do whatever we are doing.”
The Cairo-born Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil is one of the region’s most successful artists. His hand-painted photography portraits of famous cultural figures from the Arab world and the West have proved especially popular, while his later series of self-portraits have displayed the artist’s introspective side. At MENART, he presents this 2021 work, “Memories of a Happy Place.” “I’m working on a new series of self-portraits and landscapes. They are about my observation and interrogation of life and existence and about how fragile we all are. It’s a subject that takes up a lot of my thinking,” he told GQ Middle East last year.
The Sudanese artist spoke to Arab News in September last year about his lovingly created paintings of his homeland’s landscapes and people, many of which — like this piece from 2020 — portray figures moving through seemingly vast spaces. He said this was because he senses that many Sudanes people “don’t know what to do.” “It makes life surreal. I see the silence of the space in the desert with people fading or vanishing away. It is an uncertain life.” He wanted to honor the women of his country, he added. “Many women in Sudan have lost their husbands or kids; they have suffered a lot,” he said. “But they keep going. They are very strong. I show them respect when I paint them. These women have to be recognized.”
Iraqi multimedia artist Sama Alshaibi was born in Basra to an Iraqi father and Palestinian mother. It is no surprise, then, that her work — according to a bio written by Ayyam Gallery — “explores spaces of conflict and the power struggles that arise in the aftermath of war and exile.” It continues: “Alshaibi is particularly interested in how such clashes occur between citizens and the state, creating vexing crises that impact the physical and psychic realms of the individual as resources and land, mobility, political agency, and self-affirmation are compromised.”
“The Levant is a region where both modern and contemporary artists have re-appropriated their chaotic and unstable daily lives and integrated them into their art,” the MENART brochure states. Notions of “territory, refugees and traditions” dominate their work, and Lebanon especially “possesses this singular ability to capture cultural flows from various sources and to play a role of mediation and filter for movements and styles, born in the West or elsewhere, in order to translate them into its own artistic frameworks.” Lebanese filmmaker and photographer Elias Moubarak, who lives in Germany, presents this haunting, untitled work from 2018 at MENART.
Al-Rais is one of the UAE’s most-respected artists, known for his landscapes, architectural studies and abstract work, the latter earning him most acclaim. The septuagenarian is largely self-taught. According to the Sharjah Art Foundation, he is “known for both his abstract oil paintings — which draw on Arabic script and geometric forms — and his more recent landscape watercolors, which reflect his longtime interest in traditional Emirati architecture and nature.” This untitled work from 2020, on show at MENART, is a fine example of the former.
A veteran and leader of the Saudi art scene, Makkah-born artist Yousef Jaha held his first solo exhibition back in 1987. At MENART, he is showing this untitled, muted oil painting from 2021. In a previous artist’s statement, Jaha said: “My works constitute a vital part of my personality, a kind of faith, confidence and innate expression of my internal concepts. Experience — and enjoyment — of this work must from inside, and leads to both a natural contemplation and an experience of the technological which expresses it.”