Review: Slick ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ sidesteps the big questions  

Review: Slick ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ sidesteps the big questions  
Mila Kunis in ‘Luckiest Girl Alive.’ (Netflix)
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Updated 24 November 2022

Review: Slick ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ sidesteps the big questions  

Review: Slick ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ sidesteps the big questions  

LONDON: The tried-and-tested format of “perfect life undone by trauma revealed via flashback” has become Netflix’s stock-in-trade of late – to varying degrees of success. The streaming platform is peppered with polished, high-quality movies and series that chronicle the hidden depths of supposedly idyllic lives, gradually revealed to be built on foundations of repressed suffering. And so it is with “Luckiest Girl Alive,” adapted from Jessica Knoll’s 2015 novel of the same name, and starring Mila Kunis as Tiffani ‘Ani’ Fanelli, a glamorous New York journalist on the verge of marrying a handsome, wealthy man from a good (and by that, we can deduce, rich) family. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Director Mike Barker lets the audience know from the very beginning that something is not quite right – when picking out knives for their wedding registry, Ani hallucinates them dripping with blood, right before she binges a pizza out of sight of her fiancé. So when a documentarian approaches Ani about an event from her past, it’s no great shock to learn that the driven and fiercely independent young woman who appears to have a perfect life, is instead harboring some hidden demons. 

Chiara Aurelia, as a young Ani, is tremendous – not to mention brave – in her portrayal of a teenager subjected to a horrific ordeal. Kunis, too, deftly treads the line between an acerbic ice queen and a traumatized woman simply trying to keep it together.

Of the supporting cast, Scoot McNairy and Justine Lupe (“Succession”) stand out. And you can see Barker (who counts “The Sandman” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” among his recent credits) trying his best to keep the intrigue alive after the full extent of Ani’s backstory has been revealed. 

But while Ani’s story is brutally uncomfortable to watch, the ancillary commentary on societal depravity of both 2015’s New York and the private high-school clique of the flashbacks feels at once heavy handed and untargeted – it’s unclear who the audience should be most mad at, other than simply…everyone. It makes for a tough watch, without asking anything more than the most superficial of questions as to why.  


Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’
‘Dunki’ stars Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

DUBAI: NEOM has attracted its first Bollywood shoot, with “Dunki,” starring Shah Rukh Khan, having filmed at the location.

The announcement was made at the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Sunday, with Wayne Borg, the managing director of NEOM, adding that 200-episode-a-year Saudi soap opera “Exceptional,” produced by MBC, would also be shot at one of the region’s new sound stages.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Borg also addressed nearby competitor Abu Dhabi, which has turned into a hotspot for Hollywood shoots in recent years, saying: “I think our ambitions are much greater than theirs,” according to Variety.

Neom has hosted an estimated 26 productions over the past 18 months, including “Desert Warrior,” which stars US actor Anthony Mackie and is directed by Rupert Wyatt.


Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF
The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

JEDDAH: Saudi director Nora Aboushousha’s film “Lucky You Are Mine,” which sheds light on mental illness in Saudi Arabia, is screening at the Red Sea International Film Festival. 

The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple who are working through their struggles to keep their bond alive and thriving. 

Aboushousha chose to represent mental health in her film because of the tremendous struggle the person affected, and people around them, go through. 

“Let alone if they lack the knowledge. As I watched more people around me and loved ones suffer from mental breakdowns, depression and anxiety, I started to notice how big of an impact it has not only on the lives of those suffering but their loved ones too. I witnessed a few relationships come to an end because of mental health issues,” she said. 

“Then I saw two (people) who decided to weather the storm ... it touched me and inspired me,” she added. 

Aboushousha said that stories in general have always been a means of escape and comfort for her. She has been touched by many writers; some films and books have helped her through tough times while others have shaped her personality. “Maybe my film can do the same to others,” the director said. 

The film's poster. (Supplied)

Aboushousha said that the challenges she faced were not gender specific, and her being a woman in the field did not make a difference. “The biggest challenge we faced was filming during Ramadan when most of talent and crew were booked with bigger projects.”

While making the film, Aboushousha enjoyed the support of her cast and crew, friends and family, and even some of the professionals in the industry whom she had never worked with offered help and advice when needed. 

“Raghad Al-Faisand and Hasan Qudus were generous with their time. We rehearsed daily for almost a month, in which Hasan would travel from Makkah to do the rehearsals,” she said. 

Speaking about some of the challenges, Aboushousha said that the “editor who was going to edit the film found himself stuck in Ramadan season, and my friend Ali Al-Attas volunteered to edit.”


‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere
A still from the film. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

DUBAI: When French Algerian director Damien Ounouri was in his late teens, he knew he wanted to go into filmmaking. It was the 1990s and Ounouri consumed films by major Western directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma.  

“For me, a new world opened in front of my eyes,” Ounouri told Arab News. “I felt that it was what I wanted to do in my life — to express my point of view, to tell stories and try to create emotions.” 

Fast-forward to 2022 and he is showcasing his latest directorial effort, “The Last Queen” — co-directed with lead star Adila Bendimerad — at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival, which partly funded the project.  

The film has already been screened at film festivals in Venice, Montpellier and Hamburg, but the Dec. 5 screening marks its MENA region premiere.  

“The Red Sea Film Festival is quite important because it’s the MENA premiere,” Ounouri said. “We didn't screen it in Algeria yet. . . It's a new, natural market.”  

Set in 1516, “The Last Queen” is a historical drama, narrating the story of the legendary Queen Zaphira (played by Bendimerad), wife of the last king of Algiers, who defends her people against the arrival of the conquering pirate Barbarossa. 

“We don't know if she existed,” says Ounouri. “In Algiers, her story is well-known. . . Adila told me about her story, saying that this queen was fighting Barbarossa. Zaphira existed in books since the 17th century. With Adila, we worked a lot with a film that has a feminine angle. For me, it's not feminism, it's just humanism.”  

To properly capture this ancient era on film, shooting took place in Algeria's museums, mosques and palaces in the cities of Algiers and Tlemcen. The film is full of sumptuous costumes — around 2,000 outfits were made for the production.

The film was shot in Algeria's historic locations. (Supplied)
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Shooting began in March 2020, but everything ground to a halt due to the pandemic and filming resumed in October 2021. “There was a lot of pressure,” said Ounouri on the intervening period. “But we used this time to push the details and the quality. During one year-and-a-half, we worked a lot more on the set design and costumes and the film is better now.” 


Actresses Tara Emad, Ruba Zarour shine at Red Sea premiere of ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’

Actresses Tara Emad, Ruba Zarour shine at Red Sea premiere of ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’
Updated 04 December 2022

Actresses Tara Emad, Ruba Zarour shine at Red Sea premiere of ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’

Actresses Tara Emad, Ruba Zarour shine at Red Sea premiere of ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’

JEDDAH: Egyptian Montenegrin actress Tara Emad and Lebanese American actress Ruba Zarour took over the red carpet ahead of the screening of Lebanese filmmaker Lara Saba’s “All Roads Lead to Rome,” at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah. 

Styled by Cedric Haddad, Emad wore a glittering embellished jumpsuit by Lebanese couturier Elie Saab, paired with jewelry by Cartier. 

Zarour, the leading lady of “All Roads Lead To Rome,” wore a stylish jacket dress from French luxury fashion house Chanel. 

Also attending the screening was popular Egyptian actress-singer Bushra Rozza, wearing a pearlescent green suit from Dubai-based label Lili Blanc, founded by Lebanese designer Sabrina Mouhiedin. 

Ruba Zarour, the leading lady of “All Roads Lead To Rome,” wore a stylish jacket dress from French luxury fashion house Chanel. (Getty Images) 

After the screening, Emad took to Instagram Stories to congratulate Zarour on her performance. “You’re a star. Mabrook @rubazarour. Truly enjoyed this light-hearted and beautiful film. Congrats to the whole incredibly talented cast.” 

The film, produced by Lara and Chadi Haddad, tells the story of Hady (played by Haddad), a famous actor who is shortlisted for the role of the young pope in an international production. 

In preparation for the role, he escapes his hectic life to Qannoubin, where four nuns and a young woman lead him to undergo a transformation. 

The romantic comedy also stars Julia Kassar, Betty Taoutel, Myrna Moukarzel and Cynthia Karam. 

Meanwhile, Saudi actress Fay Fouad attended the screening of “Sattar” and “Hanging Gardens” on Saturday. Also at the star-studded red carpet was Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar, who also took part in an In Conversation segment at the film festival on Saturday. 

Saudi actress Khairiah Abulaban was also spotted on the red carpet ahead of the two screenings. 

Adding to the jam-packed day, Lebanese actor, director and writer Nadine Labaki — who enjoyed breakout success with Oscar-nominated and Cannes Jury Prize-winning third feature “Capernaum” in 2018 — was presented with the Variety International Filmmaker Vanguard award as she addressed the audience in an hour-long In Conversation panel. 

The Red Sea International Film Festival runs until Dec. 10. 


Gurinder Chadha says ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ was about racism at RSIFF 2022

Gurinder Chadha says ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ was about racism at RSIFF 2022
Updated 04 December 2022

Gurinder Chadha says ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ was about racism at RSIFF 2022

Gurinder Chadha says ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ was about racism at RSIFF 2022

JEDDAH: British Indian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha -- known largely for her commercial, feel-good films -- took part in an hour-long 'In Conversation' panel at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, where she talked about one of her most popular early films, "Bend It Like Beckham."

The sports comedy film, released in 2002, starred Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra in lead roles.

“It’s about racism,” the director said of the film. “It’s dressed up as a comedy but it’s actually about parents protecting children from racism. But if I had gone out and said this was a film about racism, it would have never got financed, never!”

She also bemoaned the fact that there aren't more successful  British Indian filmmakers in the industry. 

When asked if she suffered from tokenism in the U.K. as a British Indian director, Chadha said: “I think the opposite because I’ve been the only one for many years. I think it’s a shameful statistic and people are trying to change that. I was the first Indian woman to make a feature in Britain [1994’s ‘Bhaji on the Beach’] and, until this day, there are only one or two [British-Indian directors in Britain]. I’m a reminder of the fact that things need to change.”

Speaking about the experience of visiting Saudi Arabia, she said: “In Britain, we have a different view of what Saudi Arabia is. Everything here is geared towards families, everything is about family life and kids, and you don’t get those impressions in Britain.

“It’s a country that’s changing. For some people, it’s changing too fast, and for some people, it’s not changing enough. I’m really interested in those discussions right now. The work that I do is very much focused on the fact that people will change,” continued the filmmaker. “It’s interesting to see those discussions in Saudi cinema, and to see how people negotiate change. I hope it’s not seen as a negative thing.”