CHENNAI: Vanessa Jopp’s bilingual Netflix drama, “Faraway,” underlines the ways in which humanity is still living in a man's world. And she narrates it picturesquely. Shot aesthetically on a beautiful Croatian island where the sun dazzles magically and the sea is a shimmering blue, it makes up, however, for a rather ordinary story of an unhappy woman whose husband (Adnan Maral) owns a restaurant.
The man is busy in his own little world, and pays little attention to his wife, Zeynep (Naomi Krauss). Their daughter (Bahar Balci) is no different. “Faraway” talks about a classic situation where so many women find themselves unhappy, unappreciated and lonely. They slog away for their families but find that they are little cared for.
The breaking point comes when Zeynep's mother dies and her husband forgets to turn up for the funeral. This may seem a tad exaggerated, but this appears like the only way the plot can move into the second part of the drama, which is far more realistic.
She runs away to her mother's birthplace, a lovely Croatian island, where something unexpected is all set to arrive. She walks into her mother's home and finds that it is occupied by a strange man, Josip (Goran Bogdan). And Zeynep's plan to turn the house into an Airbnb appears to be failing.
There is instant chemistry between the two, but Jopp and writer Jane Ainscough place this on a slow-burner. The relationship swings wildly between love and hate and the rom-com burns brightest in this segment.
It is not very difficult to see what will follow, and how the story will end. Unfortunately, “Faraway” is highly predictable, but the visual brilliance overshadows the latent flaws.
Krauss is compelling to watch with a performance curve that is marvellous: she turns from an unhappy woman to one who finds joy and happiness in faraway Croatia. For those who are a romantic at heart, Jopp's work may be even exhilarating. Yes, the visuals are stunning and add to the feel-good factor. A great work for an evening when you are not in a very critical mood and are willing to go with the flow of “Faraway.”
Emirati director Mohammed Saeed Harib talks new film about an aspiring Saudi wrestler
Updated 09 June 2023
DUBAI: If Dubai has a face, it was probably drawn by Mohammed Saeed Harib. The Emirati animator, artist and filmmaker behind the new film ‘King of the Ring’ — now screening in cinemas across the Middle East — has become an icon in his home country, and is responsible for so much of how the city presents itself to the world, with the characters from his animated series “Freej” welcoming tourists on FlyDubai, his robot design having guided visitors through Expo 2020, and now the newly redesigned characters Modesh and Dana serving as the city’s mascots.
It's no wonder, then, that Harib focuses more these days on the message behind what he’s making. He hasn’t lost his sense of fun, of course, but while he may have set out 20 years ago with a goal to entertain and lovingly poke fun at his own culture, he’s become much more aware that he is a cultural ambassador, and as the region’s artistic voice begins to boom louder, what is being said matters just as much as how it’s said.
“I’ve found it very important to use my skills to make sure that there are good products for kids growing up,” Harib tells Arab News. “My animated series ‘Siraj’ may not get as much media attention, but it’s been (out for) years and it’s still shown in schools. It’s funny, because I’d would rather be known for that kind of work, honestly.”
At first glance, “King of the Ring” (Malik Al-Halaba in Arabic) may be an odd fit for an artist with those intentions. It’s the story of a Saudi man who aspires to be a pro wrestler, far from Harib’s usual wheelhouse. But beneath the surface it’s something more.
“When I was approached, they cautioned me that this was not a slapstick film — it was a heartfelt story. I said, ‘Perfect, that’s exactly what I want to do.’ I wanted an action-comedy with some soul in it,” says Harib.
That was easier said than done, of course, especially in the circumstances Harib was handed. The film was shot in Abu Dhabi halfway through 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ‘unprecedented times’ led to a production no one could have prepared for.
“Abu Dhabi was by far the most restrictive city during the pandemic, and so we had to adjust accordingly. It was a bit surreal checking into a hotel and having them repeat back to me, ‘So you’ll be staying here 90 days?’ And just as that was sinking in, Saudi Arabia stopped all flights, and we lost our lead actor,” says Harib.
He didn’t have much to compare this to. His last live action film, 2019’s “Rashid & Rajab,” was made over a six-year period in intimate locations near his home, with actors and crew he’d known for years, and producers he counts among his closest friends. “King of the Ring” was a major film, with an international cast — the first large-scale co-production between Saudi Arabia’s MBC, Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation and Vox Cinemas. And even with all that weighing on him, a pressing question jumped into his mind: ‘How the heck do I capture pro wrestling?’
“I was a big fan as a kid, but I haven’t really focused on it for years, and never with a filmmaker’s eye. But I became obsessed. We ended up having to build a wrestling ring in one of the board rooms of the hotel, just to practice the routines over and over again because I was so adamant on understanding what every movement meant,” says Harib.
“In the film, the wrestling starts very amateurish, both in its choreography and how it’s filmed. Then as the film goes on, my best directing comes just as the wrestling gets really good as well. We all were learning as we went — we grew up with the character,” Harib continues.
The director pushed himself further than he ever had before, guided through a harrowing experience by the yearning to become a better filmmaker than before he started — a goal he accomplished. It’s probably why he connected so strongly with the soul of the film, the chronicle of a man battling the limitations his society has placed on him.
“This story sheds light on struggling personalities — people who are fighting to find their voice when society dictates that you don’t go against the grain. There are judgmental figures around you telling you how you should act, how you should look, how you should betray yourself or what line of business to go into. We made this film to be a family picture because we want parents and kids to see this journey and gain something from watching this man fight to be something different and succeed,” says Harib.
Coincidentally, this is not the first film from the Gulf this year to deal with pro wrestling. “Sattar,” from Telfaz11, was a record-breaking hit in the Kingdom, but is substantively different from “King of the Ring.” While the former’s over-the-top comic sensibility fitted more with its YouTube comedy origins, Harib’s film is aimed at a very different audience.
“Last week, one of the stakeholders from Telfaz11 came to our premiere in Saudi Arabia, and he came up to me afterwards to tell me how happy he was that he’d come,” Harib says. “This was a film that kids should see, with a clear message. ‘I can’t recommend our film ‘Sattar’’, the man said, ‘if they’re not of a certain age. It’s wonderful both these films exist!’”
“Sattar” has singlehandedly redrawn the cinema landscape in the region, offering a roadmap towards the untapped commercial prospects for Saudi-related films in the Kingdom. In the UAE, on the other hand, “Sattar” didn’t perform nearly as well, showing that there is still work to be done in crafting films that appeal to both Emiratis and Saudis in equal measure.
“I hope we arrive at a point where we can enjoy each other’s films, but people need to know that while we are part of one family, we have differences,” Harib says. “There are many unique cultural nuances. The Emirati population, for example, did not have the same YouTube culture that has shaped Saudi appetites over the last decade. That material is a hard sell to audiences who are unfamiliar with it, and vice versa. There is a lot of work to be done in navigating these differences.”
And those differences, of course, are ever-evolving. Harib is working on a new season of “Freej,” and he’s constantly marveling at how different the country is from when he started the show in 2006. The characters he created barely exist in real life, as the Emirati people continue to evolve with the times, and cultural traditions begin to change with them.
“I’m working on a film about this now actually — an animated feature — and it’s my passion project. I’ve spent so long servicing companies, or governmental organizations, but this one is for me. It will take some time, though,” says Harib. “Perhaps in five years, we can sit down for an interview about it, and try to figure out how much the Gulf has changed once again.”
Saudi radio host Big Hass launches new show to support regional talent, ‘Catch A Vibe’
Big Hass is a mainstay on the Arab hip-hop scene and has worked artists from across the world
His first guest on his new show is Syrian singer-songwriter and producer Ghaliaa Chaker
Updated 08 June 2023
DUBAI: The UAE-based Saudi hip-hop promoter, producer and radio host Hassane Dennaoui, aka Big Hass, is launching a new radio show on Saturday, June 10.
“Catch A Vibe,” which will air Saturdays and Sundays at 9 p.m. on Sharjah’s Pulse 95 radio station, will, Dennaoui says, “focus on the local and regional scene — all the artists, musicians, producers and music personalities based in the region.”
Supporting regional talent has been Dennaoui’s main focus for more than 15 years now. His Saudi radio show “Laish Hip-Hop?” — which focuses on Arabic hip-hop — has been running for over a decade now, but his new show will give him the opportunity to “get to know these artists on a personal level.” Each week, a guest will join Dennaoui in the studio to discuss “their challenges, their inspirations, their way of writing,” he explains.
“I want to find out about the human behind the artist and dive into questions that usually don’t get addressed on the radio,” he says. “The most exciting thing for me is getting to do these in-depth conversations: Why did they start doing what they’re doing? What’s the story behind a particular song or record? I also think it’s interesting to discover the challenges they’re facing — some will have family backup, some won’t. Some will prove their families wrong, some of them will have no issues with that at all.
“There’s such a diverse lineup of artists in the region and I think it’s going to be interesting to get to know them. Hopefully, when we’ve done 100 episodes and you take a look at them, you’ll see amazing diversity,” he continues.
Dennaoui intends to talk to up-and-comers and veterans on the show. If his guest has already recorded their own music, then the show will feature some of their tracks. But, he says, “I’ll be talking to artists who don’t have any original work out yet. And part of me doing that is also to prepare them, maybe — put them in a space where they can talk about it and get excited about it.”
His first guest on the show is the UAE-based Syrian singer-songwriter and producer Ghaliaa Chaker. “She’s really taken the region by storm with her authenticity and her incredible talent. She’s definitely one of the most talented artists here in the UAE. She’s incredible,” says Dennaoui.
“My main hope is to create a space where artists can really come in and express themselves,” he continues. “I also hope we’ll be able to export the talent that’s here across the region and eventually the world. I think it’s a duty to support regional talent.”
Dina Shihabi’s latest film to premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival
Updated 07 June 2023
DUBAI: Part-Saudi actress Dina Shihabi took to social media this week to promote her latest film “Catching Dust,” which premieres at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival on June 11.
The 96-minute feature was directed by Stuart Gatt and sees protagonist Geena, an artist and painter ready to dream big, tired of living in the desert with her controlling partner. At her wit's end, Geena is preparing to leave when a new couple shows up at the commune in a trailer from New York, eager to make a new life for themselves away from the city. Things turn dangerous for both couples as tensions boil over and egos come to a head as attempts to connect leave everyone frayed and on the edge of disaster.
Shihabi stars alongside US actress Erin Moriarty, who plays Geena, and Australian stars Jai Courtney and Ryan Corr.
Shihabi has a busy summer ahead of her, with her latest series “Painkiller” set to premiere on Netflix on Aug. 10.
The Riyadh-born actress recently took to Instagram to share a series of stills from the miniseries, which focuses on the origins and aftermath of America’s opioid epidemic.
“One of the best experiences of my life with a group of the most talented people that I will love forever. Can’t wait for you to watch,” she told fans.
Shihabi stars alongside US actors Matthew Broderick and Uzo Aduba, as well as Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch.
“Painkiller” is based on the book “Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic,” by Barry Meier, and a New Yorker article, “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” written by Patrick Radden Keefe.
The series was created by US screenwriter Micah Fitzerman-Blue and actor and writer Noah Harpster, with US filmmakers Eric Newman, Peter Berg and Alex Gibney as executive producers.
Shihabi spent part of her childhood in Dubai. Her father is Saudi Norwegian journalist Ali Shihabi, and her mother Nadia is half-Palestinian and half-German Haitian.
She moved to the US in 2007 and was the first Middle Eastern-born woman to be accepted to the Juilliard School and New York University graduate acting program. She began appearing in short films in 2010, but her big break came in 2017 with the role of Hanin in the series “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”
Shihabi previously spoke to Arab News to share her advice for up-and-coming actors.
“Look around to the people that are around you right now and start making things. And focus, hard work, determination, passion (are important). Those are real things,” she said.
“I’m still working really hard to make the things I want happen and I don’t think it’s ever going to end. If you choose this life, you are choosing a life where you have to really work hard.”
Tom Cruise to attend Middle East premiere of ‘Mission Impossible’ in Abu Dhabi
Updated 06 June 2023
DUBAI: The UAE is set to host the Middle East premiere of the eagerly awaited “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” at a red-carpet event at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace on June 26.
The film’s screening will be attended by Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie.
Some of the movie’s scenes were shot in the Liwa desert and the Midfield Terminal in the UAE capital’s airport.
McQuarrie, Cruise, and the cast and crew shot in the emirate for almost two weeks in 2021 with the support of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and other local production partners, including twofour54 Abu Dhabi.
It marks the second time the Paramount Pictures’ franchise has filmed in Abu Dhabi following the HALO jump sequence for “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” in 2018.
Khalfan Al-Mazrouei, acting director general of Creative Media Authority, said: “Hosting the premiere of ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ is an honor for Abu Dhabi and is also a reflection of the position the emirate holds as one of the Middle East and North Africa region’s top film and TV locations.
“We are proud to have worked with such a genre-defining franchise once again and it demonstrates how Abu Dhabi has everything filmmakers need to successfully complete such large, complex productions.”
Sofia Carson dazzles in Zuhair Murad at event honoring late co-star
Updated 04 June 2023
DUBAI: Actress Sofia Carson cut an elegant figure in a Zuhair Murad gown as she reunited with her “Descendants” co-stars Dove Cameron and Booboo Stewart to remember one of their own.
The “Descendants” stars gathered at the second annual Cam for a Cause event in memory of their co-star Cameron Boyce, who died at the age of 20 due to an epileptic seizure.
The actress-singer showed up in a beautiful black Zuhair Murad fall 2023 draped pleated cape gown with gold button detailing.
This is not the first time Carson has worn the Lebanese couturier. Late last year, Carson attended the Global Citizen Festival in a coordinating look from Murad’s resort 2023 collection. The outfit featured an embellished crop-top and mini-skirt set with matching thigh-high leather boots.
Meanwhile, the Cam for a Cause event, which was created by Boyce’s parents under the Cameron Boyce Foundation, was made to raise awareness and find a cure for epilepsy and SUDEP, Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, which caused the young actor’s death in July 2019.
“Black-ish” star Yara Shahidi received the Cameron Boyce Foundation’s Youth Empowerment Award for her “activism surrounding STEM awareness, women’s rights, civil rights, and her countless acts of kindness toward others.”
“I met Cameron when we were 5 years old, and even then, his talent, his fearlessness and his belief in the power of his peers was evident,” Shahidi said in a statement. “It means so much to be recognized for my advocacy, and the work I continue to do to effect change. I’m grateful to my friends and family at the Cameron Boyce Foundation for thinking of me, as I will always be inspired and activated by their incredible work in the fight to end epilepsy.”