LONDON: The opening few moments of “The Wonder” are a discombobulating experience – before the movie even gets going, director Sebastián Lelio hits viewers with a bizarre, fourth-wall-breaking curveball: This might well be just a story, but the characters in it believe in it wholeheartedly.
It’s a peculiar — not to mention entirely unnecessary — sort of disclaimer. It doesn’t, as you might expect, kickstart a series of knowing, reflexive nods throughout the film, nor does it specifically frame (or reframe) viewer expectations. It’s just a rather odd way to start the film.
And it’s unnecessary because “The Wonder” is unsettling and atmospheric enough on its own merits, and all the more captivating because of that.
Florence Pugh stars as Lib Wright, a Nightingale nurse sent to a small Irish village to ascertain the veracity of an apparently miraculous event. Teenager Anna (Kila Lord Cassidy) claims to have not eaten for four months, surviving (her devout family say) on manna from heaven. Lib is tasked with observing the girl for two weeks, to determine if Anna represents a genuine miracle, or simply something far more terrestrial. Her investigations put Lib in conflict with Anna’s parents and the local community, all of whom seem desperate to believe in the miracle rather than to accept a more mundane explanation.
Pugh is at her direct, forceful best, turning in a bullish performance that sees her square off against the village, the church, the newspapers, and everybody in between. She is simply spellbinding, serving as a welcome anchoring presence as Lelio turns up the uncanny disconcerting intensity.
“The Wonder” crackles with slow-burning frustration and impotent energy. At its heart, the movie is a simple pondering of fact versus faith — a mystery simply waiting to be solved. But thanks to Lelio’s individualistic touch (those fourth-wall dalliances aside) and Pugh’s magnetism, “The Wonder” is an unsettling, intense experience that won’t be quickly forgotten.
Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island
Archeologists uncover possible Omani bishop’s palace near Umm Al-Quwain’s recently discovered Christian monastery
Updated 7 sec ago
DUBAI: Fresh findings by archeologists suggest the existence of a possible bishop’s palace — potentially Omani — near a recently discovered Christian monastery on the UAE’s Siniyah Island, off the coast of the state of Umm Al-Quwain.
A series of walls and rooms were uncovered last year that intrigued archeologists and historians involved in the excavation process on Siniyah Island, according to Tim Power, an archeology professor at UAE University.
“It seems that we really have an interesting building that might be interpreted as an abbot’s house or perhaps even a bishop’s palace,” he continued.
The archeology professor explained that similar buildings had been found in the Arabian Gulf over the years, which has helped historians and archeologists create parallels.
Power added that recently what is thought to be a bishop’s palace was uncovered in Bahrain that had similar characteristics to the structure discovered on Siniyah Island.
“Historical sources, in particular the acts of the synods of the Nestorian church, mention a bishop of Oman between the fifth and seventh centuries,” said Power.
Oman during that period included the region that later became the northern emirates of the UAE, so it is possible this was the actual palace of a bishop, he added.
This year, the focus has shifted to excavating a different part of the island, with extensive work carried out on settlements and other structures surrounding the monastery.
Findings on the island suggest the presence of both Christian and Muslim communities, who are believed to have coexisted during a period of time.
They also shed light on the transition from late antiquity to early Islam, just before the Arab conquest.
Power, who was invited by the Tourism and Archeology Department of Umm Al-Quwain to put together a “dream team of leading experts,” chose individuals who can contribute to the project.
“The goal of this season will be to outline the context of the monastery so it’s not just an isolated structure in the middle of this sand pit,” said Michele Degli Esposti, a researcher at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Esposti, who sat categorizing artifacts and materials found during the dig, explained why the site of the alleged bishop’s palace was different than other structures.
“This area, contrary to what happens in the settlement, is quite poor in material remains,” he said.
“One reason is that the core complex, which had a very nice plaster floor, was constantly kept swept and clean, so we found very little materials left behind.”
A possible warehouse was found in the vicinity of the structure thought to be the bishop’s palace, containing further clues for archeologists to draw conclusions.
Radiocarbon dating used to assess the pottery excavated suggests that the community believed to have occupied the island was there between the seventh and eighth centuries.
Esposti said similar methodologies will be used to determine the age of the objects recently found to further narrow down the window of the predicted time period.
The excavation process, which has a more multidisciplinary approach, involves experts and materials from around the world to aid archeologists on site.
It is also the first time that TAD UAQ is hosting students from the New York University of Abu Dhabi to participate in the excavation process.
Hoor Al-Mazrouei, an Emirati biology student at NYUAD, participated in the excavations taking place in the settlements where she helped find a pot potentially used for cooking.
NYUAD students were involved in the process from Jan. 4-20, alongside archeologists from TAD UAQ such as Ammar Al-Banna.
Al-Banna, who predicts that the island will welcome visitors in the foreseeable future, said the first step is to uncover all findings to proceed.
“By uncovering them, we hope to understand why they are here and what the relationship between all the structures and the sites next to them is,” he said. “Of course, with the finds, some will be studied, some will be exhibited.”
Excavation work on the island will continue until March and will end before the Ramadan fast begins.
Siniyah Island’s monastery is the second to be found in the UAE, with the first discovered in Abu Dhabi’s Sir Bani Yas Island in the 1990s.
The massive digital campaign features US Palestinian producer DJ Khaled, Dutch Palestinian model Gigi Hadid, Syrian Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, Lebanese influencer and entrepreneur Karen Wazen, Emirati host Anas Bukhash, Lebanese-Australian model and humanitarian Jessica Kahawaty and Iraqi para-athlete Zainab Al-Eqabi.
According to the brand, the new collection showcases a bold aesthetic, combining a city-inspired spirit with a summery, off-court lifestyle in the brand’s signature color palette of black, white and camel.
The campaign aims “to inspire the world to live up to its full potential,” the brand’s statement said. “The journey to living life on one’s own terms, begins with finding one’s power, purpose, and perseverance. Despite its highs and lows, twists and turns, the journey is lived with confidence, style, and a forward-looking vision.”
Netflix releases first trailer of Gigi Hadid, Tan France’s ‘Next in Fashion’
Updated 27 January 2023
DUBAI: Giant streaming service Netflix on Friday unveiled the first trailer of the second season of “Next in Fashion,” which Part-Palestinian catwalk star Gigi Hadid co-hosts alongside British TV personality Tan France.
The new season will be released on March 3, Hadid said in her Instagram post.
“So excited to join Tan France,” she wrote to her 77 million followers. “We had the most special and fun time with these designers and can’t wait for you to meet them!”
The first season of the fashion competition show, which premiered in January 2020, featured 18 designers who faced weekly design challenges to win a $250,000 prize and a chance to have their collection sold on Net-a-Porter.
This season will feature a group of up-and-coming talents who will compete to win $200,000, and “the chance to share their designs with the world,” the streaming service said.
“Hey, hey! Nobody booked you to model, dear,” France tells Hadid, who enters the room twirling as a catwalk star, in the trailer. “You’ve got an actual job to do.”
The short trailer shows separate scenes of Hadid speaking to the designers. “Are you guys ready?” she said in one clip, while in another she motivated the competitors saying: “Fashion should be fun.”
In another scene, she was seen wearing her iconic red Versace skintight catsuit that consisted of a leather corset paired with pointed-toe knee-high boots and a voluminous, billowing red coat, which she wore to the Met Gala in 2022.
“Tanny?” she says. “I’m gonna need some help getting down from here.”
Hadid first announced that she will take part in the new season in February 2022.
“Netflix is casting designers now for season 2. I know there are many designers out there that deserve a platform like this. Second-guessing yourself? Please just go for it. This is your sign and your chance. Show us your creations,” she told her followers at the time, sharing a poster that featured her and France.
Filming for the show began in April 2022, according to the model.
Hadid took to Instagram to share her excitement over the forthcoming episodes at the time and talk about her co-host, calling the British reality television star her “brother” and saying that shooting the new show together has been “a joy of my life.”
France also lauded his “Next in Fashion” co-host and dubbed her an “amazing mom.”
Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay
Updated 27 January 2023
DUBAI: March 2023 will mark the 20th anniversary of US-led invasion of Iraq, which led to destruction, displacement, and prolonged political instability. One of the millions who witnessed the chaos unfold is the Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora. “There is nothing that I don’t remember,” she says from her atelier in Louisville, Kentucky.
On the night before the bombing began, Sora, who is of Kurdish origin, drove with her family from Baghdad to the town of Balad Ruz, around 120 kilometers away. “It was so visceral and scary,” she tells Arab News. “We all lived in just one house there — 30 of us slept in one room. We watched the B-52’s bomb Baghdad.”
Sora was born in Baghdad in 1976, three years before Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq, changing the course of political affairs in the Middle East. “Really, ever since I was a child, there was war and bombing,” she says.
Amid all the unrest, however, Sora discovered a passion for art. Her mother’s family owned a prominent auction business in Baghdad, where modernists like Faiq Hassan and Shakir Hassan Al-Said gathered, and Sora says she read as much as possible growing up about the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, in particular. “This was what (was) around,” she recalls. “I grew up in this kind of dreamy world that was parallel to the bombing.”
In 2006, Sora left Iraq through the Kurdish/Turkish border, ending up in Istanbul. From there, she moved to the UK, the UAE and finally, the US, where she arrived in 2009. She hasn’t been back to Iraq since leaving, and says it was not an easy transition to life in the country that had invaded her own.
“It was a culture shock. I felt like I always had to dumb down who I am to be accepted, but I also met some amazing people who supported me and my practice,” she says. “They were so hungry to learn more about us. I feel like I don’t just represent Iraq, I represent the whole region.”
The experience of surviving “29 years of war” has definitely seeped into Sora’s expressive canvases, housed in private and public collections in Iraq, the US, France, and Turkey. “Iraq affects everything in my work; it’s my DNA,” she says. “Once you’ve lived through the first three decades of your life in a country like Iraq, witnessing four or five wars, that cannot leave you.”
The self-taught artist tries to leave that which she has endured in the background, like “a dead grandmother who protects you,” she says. Her work is inspired by both her own life and by global issues such as climate change and cultural destruction. She quotes what the German artist Anselm Kiefer once said about the role of an artist: To observe and do the work.
She describes her large paintings, inspired by Middle Eastern history and aesthetics, as a form of ‘gestural abstraction.’ They are full of rich colors, floating shapes, dreamlike landscapes, and curious figures. There are portrayals of chaos, explosions, life and death — and of the moment after death, reaching the sublime. Decay, and seeing the beauty in it, is Sora’s obsession.
“It’s an equivalent of my own life,” she says. “I feel like, the older we get, the more refined we’re supposed to be. I feel the decay that has happened within me is equivalent to the physical decay I see in artworks and palaces. We persevere through certain things, or we fail. We might be destroyed in the process, and that’s what interests me.”
The physical act of painting is a way of staying whole. “I come to the studio super-early in the morning, shut the world off and put on my music. I’m immersed in that moment. It’s the best feeling,” she says. It is also a way of dealing with her post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by escaping near-death experiences.
“The only way to get it out of me somehow, or to work with this, is to continuously repeat that feeling,” she explains. “In the end, I don’t want the work to be about death or terribleness. It will be, somehow, but I also want to create elements of beauty.”
French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards
Updated 26 January 2023
DUBAI: French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category at the 48th Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars.
Khoudri has been nominated for her role in filmmaker Cedric Jimenez's “Novembre,” which tells the story of the terrorist attacks in Paris on the night of Nov. 13, 2015. She plays Samia, a charitable young woman who volunteers at a homeless camp. Her flat mate is bankrolling her cousin, one of the terrorists.
The actress is no stranger to starring in films based on real-life incidents. In November 2022, she premiered “Nos Frangins” or “Our Brothers.” The movie tells the harrowing true story of French Algerian student Malik Oussekine who died in police custody in 1986 following several weeks of student protests against a university reform bill. Khoudri plays the role of his sister.
Meanwhile, Louis Garrel’s “The Innocent” and Dominik Moll’s thriller “The Night of the 12th” are leading the race at the Cesar Awards, with 11 and 10 nods, respectively.