Review: ‘The Wonder’ — new Netflix mystery is a tall tale, told well

Review: ‘The Wonder’ — new Netflix mystery is a tall tale, told well
Florence Pugh stars as Lib Wright, a Nightingale nurse sent to a small Irish village. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 24 November 2022

Review: ‘The Wonder’ — new Netflix mystery is a tall tale, told well

Review: ‘The Wonder’ — new Netflix mystery is a tall tale, told well
  • Sebastian Lelio’s movie pits a devout community against a pragmatic nurse 

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. 


Cinema industry thrives with collaboration, says Borg 

Cinema industry thrives with collaboration, says Borg 
Updated 08 December 2022

Cinema industry thrives with collaboration, says Borg 

Cinema industry thrives with collaboration, says Borg 
  • Neom to boost producers’ confidence with increased incentives

 

NEOM: From deep blue ocean and pristine beaches to lofty mountains, Neom’s unique geography and topography serves as a new epicenter for the region’s media, film and gaming production. 

Over the past 18 months, Neom Media Village and Bajdah Desert Studios have supported more than two dozen productions including the $153 million movie “Desert Warrior,” directed Rupert Wyatt.

The first Saudi movie “Within Sands” was filmed at Neom by one of Kingdom’s leading producers. “It’s in competition at the Red Sea International film festival and we’re hoping it wins one of the main prizes,” said Wayne Borg, managing director for Media Industries, Entertainment and Culture at Neom, told Arab News. 

“We also finished filming last week the upcoming Bollywood movie ‘Dunki,’ starring Shah Rukh Khan … and booked a 200-episode-a-year Saudi soap opera ‘Exceptional’ produced by MBC Group,” he said. 

Borg said Neom’s media hubs were impressive. “We have facilities, for instance, we have four sound stages, 2,500 square meters each,” he said.  

“Our studios are being built to be world-class production facilities with set production offices, construction warehouses, prop shops, wardrobe, and SFX facilities.

“Film and ancillary equipment including cameras, heavy-lift drones, telehandlers, boom lifts, scissor lifts and trackways are available on both sites.” 

Wayne Borg, managing director for Media Industries, Entertainment and Culture at Neom. (Supplied)

By the end of 2026, “Neom will have a full-fledged ecosystem” and the media hubs will be approximately 1 million square meters with “with somewhere between 45 and 50 sound stages, tenancy space, gaming, studio space, industry learning space,” said Borg. 

The Kingdom has boosted producer confidence with increased incentives. 

“We have a very competitive and globally attractive production incentive scheme where we offer a 40 percent plus cash rebate production incentive scheme for feature films, reality series, TV and commercials. At present, cast and crew are rolling from one production to the next,” said Borg. 

“We can handle between three and four productions at any given time and are starting to build our crew depth. And we help productions and assist in terms of bureaucracy and government services to create a streamline and as efficient process as possible with a team that understands what is needed so we can make it happen on budget and on time every time.

Borg said that directors and producers wanting to use Neom should “reach out to us, to the team, either online or through our website, and leave details. And we’ll be in contact with you to set up a meeting to discuss your project, what your needs are, and how we can help bring that production to life at Neom.” 

“We’re working to achieve a fully integrated media hub both physically and technologically, which will create huge opportunities. There’s been an inability for talent and creatives to come together previously and collaborate, and it is now clear that this industry thrives best in a collaborative environment. We want to give you a real red carpet, not a red tape experience.” 


Misk Art Week kicks off with Kingdom’s first-ever life painting classes

Misk Art Week kicks off with Kingdom’s first-ever life painting classes
Updated 08 December 2022

Misk Art Week kicks off with Kingdom’s first-ever life painting classes

Misk Art Week kicks off with Kingdom’s first-ever life painting classes
  • Huthaifa Hejazi was invited by Misk Art Institute to supervise a group of aspiring Saudi and foreign artists focused on life drawing
  • Huthaifa Hejazi: It is a big step for us to host live painting and drawing here, and I am trying to do everything I can to support the community

Huthaifa Hejazi is hosting Riyadh’s first gathering for public life drawing during Misk Art Week’s sixth edition, which launched on Wednesday.

An interior designer and an artist, Hejazi, 33, was invited by Misk Art Institute to supervise a group of aspiring Saudi and foreign artists focused on life drawing.

The classes or “gatherings,” as termed by Misk Art Institute, are the result of an informal community in Riyadh that practiced life drawing together until they found Masaha Residency in Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall, the home of Misk Art Institute in Riyadh, where they have been gathering weekly since August this year. The staging of such life drawing gatherings publicly, which have until this week been practiced privately in the Kingdom, further exemplifies changing times in Saudi Arabia.

“It is a big step for us to host live painting and drawing here, and I am trying to do everything I can to support the community,” Hejazi told Arab News.

“This is a new experience for us; life drawing helps you better your skills,” said Mansour Alotaibi, an engineer who works at the Ministry of Energy and has been painting since he was a child.

The life drawing and painting gatherings are one of the most popular events taking place during Misk Art Week, which ends on Dec. 10. They are free and open to the public, like all activities taking place during the event.

This year marked the most dynamic and comprehensive edition for Misk Art Institute’s flagship event, witnessed through a sprawling array of art exhibitions, and a range of talks and workshops reflective of the organization’s mission to strengthen the local and regional creative community. The art week, also, as Mashael Al-Yahya, creative director at Misk Art Institute, said, marks the full return of the event after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This edition, in its scale, is similar to that which was hosted in 2019,” Al-Yahya told Arab News. “But because of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021, we needed to downsize. We fully brought back our programming to this year’s art week, largely witnessed in the Art and Design Market that used to be called the Artist Street.”

A range of white cube open-air spaces in various heights made up the Art and Design Market, providing free booths to 81 creatives from across the Kingdom based on an open-call process. Works on show spanned the realms of ceramics, painting, accessories and jewelry. Like a mini art fair, guests could acquire, source and commission one-off works.

Abeer Al-Zayed, an artist from Al-Baha, came to Riyadh to show her paintings featuring delicate and colorful portraits of anonymous women at the Art and Design Market, marking her fifth time taking part in a Misk event. “We are witnessing the growth of the art scene in Saudi Arabia, and this makes me very happy,” she told Arab News.

Other highlights included the two-day Creative Forum, which brought in top speakers on art and culture from around the Middle East and internationally. Artists include Emirati Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, founder of Barjeel Art Foundation; Dr. Nada Shabout, regent professor of art history and coordinator of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative at the University of North Texas, and artists such as pioneering Saudi woman Safeya Binzagr.

On the second floor of the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Arts Hall was the third edition of the Misk Art Grant, one of the most sought-after grants in the region with a fund of SR1 million ($266,632) distributed among three to 10 artists and collectives from across the Arab world. In a tightly curated show, the artists showcased their work, made this year according to the theme of Saraab, which means mirage in Arabic. Noteworthy was how the works examined the relationship between movement, memory and ideas pertaining to what is visible and invisible.

This year’s recipients included Saudi artists Abdulmohsen Albinali and Juri Alfadhel; M’hammed Kilito from Ukraine, Athoub Al-Busaily from Kuwait, and Rawdha Al-Ketbi and Zeinab Alhashemi from the UAE.

Alhashemi presented “The Grid,” a powerful series of six steel beam sculptures recreating the cylinder pipes found in Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall. The gold and black cylinders, some standing tall and erect while others curving over, featured black claps on the interlocking beams, making the piece almost akin to jewelry pieces. They are, emphasized the artist, an attempt to play on the visibility and invisibility of the pipes, almost as if to say that the objects surrounding us are more prominent and crucial than we might think.

“Cylinders don’t seem to be invisible, but when people are looking at the art, they don’t seem to notice them or they act like they don’t see them in a way,” Alhashemi told Arab News.

“I wanted to dive deeper into the meanings behind the grids and also how different artists have used them in the past like Agnes Martin,” she added.

“To her, the grid was very meditative, and it was a way of applying some sort of harmony to her horizontal and vertical lines,” she said.

As visitors come and go from the venue, they pass the exhibition Azeema, which means “invitation” or “getting together” in Arabic. Inside are works by a range of Gulf or Khaleeji creatives reflecting on hospitality’s historical and cultural importance in the region. Videos, installations, photography and paintings showcase the persistence of collective gatherings, sharing and shared memories. On show are pivotal works such as Saudi artist Filwa Nazer’s “The Family Series,” dating to 2015, featuring cutouts superimposed over the artist’s family portraits.

There are images of weddings by acclaimed Saudi photographer Tasmeen Alsultan, paintings by Emirati artist Khalid Al-Banna — his vibrant mix of paint on his colorful abstract canvases is akin to a dynamic social gathering — and Elham Aldawsari’s photographs titled “Subabat” (2020) capture her research into the history of Saudi women hospitality workers.

Aldawsari’s large photographs greet visitors at the entrance just as a subabat — women who serve drinks and food at all-women events — would do. The artist, who grew up during the 1990s during a time when the internet was not readily available in the Kingdom, showcases the memories and stories of these women who have watched, through their personal and professional lives, while always serving others, the myriad changes that have shaped their country over the last few decades.


Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town

Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town
Updated 08 December 2022

Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town

Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town
  • Balad Beast is a boutique music festival organized for a reduced capacity of between 12,000-15,000 people daily, Dec. 9 and 10, in Al-Balad, Jeddah
  • MDLBEAST is expanding into multiple events and diversifying its portfolio under MDLBEAST Records to feature more artists representing different genres

JEDDAH: Ahead of the arrival of musical event Balad Beast, Ramadan Alharatani, CEO of MDLBEAST, received local and regional media for an exclusive press preview, including a tour of Jeddah Old Town’s famous districts on Wednesday.

The pre-event promotion was organized in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Culture.

MDLBEAST is taking place over two days on Dec. 9 and 10 with more than 70 local, regional and international artists performing in the neighborhood alongside the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s epic surroundings.

Alharatani explained the inspiration behind Balad Beast and detailed how the site will be preserved during the event. Speaking to Arab News, he said: “After months of behind-the-scenes preparations, we are delighted that the time has finally come for Jeddah’s Old Town to take center stage and host the first-ever Balad Beast.

“Since a historical area like Al-Balad requires extra caution, various extensive sound testing across the past two weeks has been performed to measure the effect of the sound vibrations and waves on the area’s buildings and ensure the volume is at a safe limit.”

Alharatani added that the Balad Beast is a boutique festival organized for a reduced capacity with about 12,000-15,000 people in attendance each day.

“We aim to provide the full experience to the music lovers in Jeddah similar to what other festivals of multi-stages and multi-genres have along with an ability to move from one place to another, enabling visitors to enjoy the music at every corner,” he said.

“The crowd in Jeddah has always been demanding for MDLBEAST. Although we have been here before by executing the Formula One concerts in March and November, this is the first time we are bringing the MDLBEAST through Balad Beast in historic Jeddah,” he added.

The event will bring renowned headliners, emerging talent and cutting-edge features together in a historic, culturally significant site fusing the past with the present and thrusting the spotlight on both Jeddah’s history and vast potential to become a thriving local and regional hub for music.

During the conference, Alharatani said that extra steps had been taken to prevent harassment of any kind at the event. “We work to promote fun and consensual music experiences. Therefore, we have launched an anti-harassment campaign called ‘Respect & Reset’ aimed at education, prevention and support resources,” he said.

Alharatani warned that anyone who violates the policy will be immediately removed from the festival site without a refund and will be referred to the authorities for legal recourse, adding that offenders will be banned from all future events.

MDLBEAST is expanding into multiple events and diversifying its portfolio under MDLBEAST Records to feature more artists representing different genres. It is also expanding into venues to provide creative spaces and cultural hubs for aspiring artists to gather, create and be part of the community.

Balad Beast announced that US rapper Busta Rhymes is making his way to Saudi Arabia for the festival, while era-defining DJ Carl Cox will also be part of the action-packed bill. Italian duo Tale of Us will also take part, along with Lupe Fiasco, Salvatore Ganacci, as well as local artists including Dorar, Dana Hourani, Biirdperson and many others.

Tickets for Balad Beast are available now across two tiers: General Admission, which offers access to all five stages of the event, and VIB, which will give ticket holders the privilege of accessing historic building lounges, entrances from a separate VIB gate and complimentary gourmet food.


Palestinian American comedian Mo Amer’s talk thrills audience at Red Sea International Film Festival

Palestinian American comedian Mo Amer’s talk thrills audience at Red Sea International Film Festival
Updated 08 December 2022

Palestinian American comedian Mo Amer’s talk thrills audience at Red Sea International Film Festival

Palestinian American comedian Mo Amer’s talk thrills audience at Red Sea International Film Festival

JEDDAH: Palestinian American comedian and actor Mo Amer, who has had an impressive year following the success of his semi-autobiographical Netflix comedy-drama “Mo” and a role in “Black Adam,” was at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Wednesday to speak as part of the “In Conversation” panel.

The 41-year-old is the writer, producer and lead star of “Mo,” in which he tells the story of a Palestinian refugee who lives with his family in Houston, trying to figure out how to make a living while waiting on a pending asylum request for US citizenship which has already taken longer than 20 years.

 

 

Amer said: “What really gets me going in the mornings is like, creating something that’s never been done before, putting a story out there, and what it does to this landscape.

“A Palestinian experience in America, or anywhere really, that is put out on the biggest global platform on planet Earth is so spectacular.

Mo Amer at the In Conversation panel at the Red Sea Mall in Jeddah. (AFP)

“To tell a Palestinian story that’s real, that’s grounded, that’s from Houston and shows the city as a character, is so special.

“I’ve never seen anything like that so that’s what keeps me going, telling stories that are so unique, but yet very global. That’s not just for us, but for everybody.”

Speaking on why he made the show, Amer added: “It is important to lead with something that I know super well.

“We have never seen what a refugee is like. We always see them on boats, you know; they are just struggling to get to a place.

“It’s super-dramatic and dramatizes to another level. There’s not really a face to it.

“I always call myself a privileged refugee, and I am, and I definitely state there’s no story of the asylum process, what it’s like, day to day, for the family to go through all the different emotions.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Mohammed "Mo" Amer (@moamer)

Amer straddles the line between two different cultures, two religions, and three languages, including Arabic, English and Mexican, in the show.

What makes the series so heartwarming to its audiences is the real, silly, and funny tone that Amer uses to mix old and new school, which helped make the series one of the most significant TV shows of 2022.

He added: “It’s really been incredible. The response has been through the roof, and I think that having 20 years of thinking about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it is what made it so timely.

“We were as honest as we could be. In episode three, when we see my grandparents’ house, that is actually my grandparents’ house.

“The house address in episode seven in the flashback, which I wrote over nine years ago, is the address that we fled from in Kuwait.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Mohammed "Mo" Amer (@moamer)

Amer also shared what it’s like to be a stand-up comedian, and how he goes by the reaction of his audience while onstage.

He said: “The audience is my barometer; that’s the most beautiful thing. And that relationship is really special to me.

“It’s just such a thrilling thing to build an audience and to go around the world, and for them to come to see you tell specific stories and share them and get that immediate response.

“There is nothing like it and, to be honest, stand-up comedy saved my life.”

And Amer’s special advice for any budding writers?

He said: “Write for yourself, do not wait. Everything that you write, put it in your savings account. That is what I call it because actually, you can put it in your savings, and you do not know when you’re going to use it.

“Later on, somebody is going to ask you if you have anything and you can show them all the projects that you have. That is very, very important.”


REVIEW: Red Sea title ‘Harka’ takes a disturbing look at Tunisia’s tragedies

REVIEW: Red Sea title ‘Harka’ takes a disturbing look at Tunisia’s tragedies
Updated 08 December 2022

REVIEW: Red Sea title ‘Harka’ takes a disturbing look at Tunisia’s tragedies

REVIEW: Red Sea title ‘Harka’ takes a disturbing look at Tunisia’s tragedies

JEDDAH: “Harka,” which premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category and has now been featured at the ongoing second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, takes a poignant and gut-wrenching look at Tunisia, a decade after the Arab Spring.

The film deftly handles heavy themes like abject poverty brought on by unemployment, corruption and, more importantly, the absence of hope.

Little has changed for Tunisia since the Arab Spring. Vivien Yee wrote in The New York Times: “A new constitution and several free and fair elections have failed to deliver the bread, jobs and dignity that Tunisians demanded after ousting a longtime dictator.” Good times still elude the nation, as we see in Lotfy Nathan’s unforgettable “Harka” — which can mean either “to burn” or “migrate illegally across the Mediterranean by small boats,” a journey where danger and death await.

Compelling French Tunisian actor Adam Bessa plays Ali, who dreams of better times, and after his father’s death, has to take on the responsibility of caring for his two younger sisters. His older brother, despite a steady job at a seaside resort, refuses to help Ali, who is further burdened by a debt his father left behind. With their house being taken over by the bank, Ali and his sisters are pushed to the streets.

With little hope left despite his risky job of selling contraband gasoline on the border, Ali as a character comes alive after the Arab Spring, which started with the immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010 and spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Syria and other countries.

What do you do when life keeps hitting you? That is the question Nathan poses in a very disturbing sort of way.

With several non-professionals in the movie, the director skillfully weaves his plot through a maze of tragedies, and presents a climax that is at once hopeful and horrifying. What appears so ruthless here is the complete callousness of the people who walk by even as a tragedy unfolds in front of them.

Maximilian Pittner’s camera takes you close to Ali and others, helping us to watch their anguish in great detail. Nathan’s background has been documentaries, and here in his fictional “Harka,” he masters the art of mixing the two genres into a gripping narrative.