CHENNAI: One of the hallmarks of a good movie or book is its ability to lace the structure with dramatic curves. This is even more of a necessity for a romance, and Netflix's latest foray into this genre, “Love at First Sight,” fails in this regard. Added to this is the unimaginative lighting and shots that are oh-so predictable.
Helmed by Vanessa Caswill from a screenplay by Katie Lovejoy that is based on the book penned by Jennifer E. Smith, “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight,” the film begins with numbers. How many people fall in love at the very first sight. How many see through this and so on. But mercifully for 90 minutes, the show is okay — even sweet at times — but for the narrative flatness that might put one to sleep.
Hadley Sullivan, played by Haley Lu Richardson (last seen in “The White Lotus”) is 20, American and ready to fly to England to attend her dad's second wedding. She misses her plane and is bailed out with a business class ticket.
Waiting to get on the flight, she meets Oliver (Ben Hardy). They have coffee together, and as luck would have it, they are taking the same flight. Again as luck would have it, his economy seat belt does not work, and the stewardess upgrades him to business. Luck again, when he finds her seated next to him. Honestly, there’s a bit too much of luck but hey, this is a rom-com after all.
Richardson essays a 20-something college student she is not convincing enough to carry off. But Hardy makes up for this with his quick wit, amazing energy and suffering sorrow when he sees his mother. He is on his way to attend a condolence prayer meeting that the mother insists even though she is not yet gone. It should be noted that British star Jameela Jamil gives the work some amusing levity as the omnipresent narrator.
“Love at First Sight” is sweet but forgettable — worth an evening’s watch if you’re in the mood for a light rom-com with some emotional moments, but not worth a re-watch.
Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry and Baz Luhrmann talk careers, inspiration at RSIFF
Updated 07 December 2023
Shyama Krishna Kumar
JEDDAH: Academy Award-winner and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow cut a business chic look as she headlined three high-profile In Conversation panels that took place at the Red Sea International Film Festival on Wednesday night, with Australian director Baz Luhrmann and US actress Halle Berry taking part in panels on the same day.
Taking part in a retrospective conversation moderated by Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG) CEO Jomana Al-Rashed – who introduced Paltrow as a personal role model – the latter looked back on her career as a successful movie star as well as an entrepreneur, recently celebrating 15 years of her wellness company, Goop.
“Entrepreneurship and acting are very similar. Both require the same kind of energy,” said Paltrow of her decision to launch Goop.
“I’m really happy I did it because I’ve learned so much through the process of growing this company and working with this team and all of the challenges, whether it be inventory management or Excel. I never thought in a million years I would have to learn how to read a P&L. It’s been so thrilling to build this business and still do what I love to do.”
On the topic of films, Paltrow was asked by an audience member about how she felt about working in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to which she said she stopped watching the films at some point, having also never watched “Avengers: Endgame,” in which she has a significant role.
Paltrow did, however, go into some detail about the first ever MCU film she shot, 2008’s “Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey Jr. in his famous titular role.
“The first film we did was very different from the rest because the studio didn’t think it was going to be a big hit,” she said. “They hired Jon Favreau to direct who was great. And they hired Robert Downey Jr., who was un-hireable at the time. His career was at a very low point.
“And then I remember they called me one day and said, ‘Come do this thing with us.’ And I said, ‘I’m not going to be in a superhero movie.’ And then they said, ‘No, but it’s going to be like doing an indie film. We’re going to have fun and, you know, you don’t have to be in too much of the action part anyway.’”
“And so I thought, ‘Oh, okay.’ And we had such a good time. We improvised almost every scene of that movie. We would write it in the morning in Jon’s trailer, and it was like doing an independent film. Then, the movie was such a huge hit that then we didn’t make them like that anymore. But it was fun. It was a fun ride,” she added.
Paltrow, whose last onscreen role was Netflix’s “The Politician,” was also asked whether she saw herself returning to Hollywood.
“I never say never. I’m really happy and busy doing what I’m doing. But again, I can never know what the future will hold,” she said.
Here’s a look at what Luhrmann and Berry had to say at their respective In Conversation panels:
Halle Berry talks Oscars and inspiration
US actress Halle Berry, the first and only African-American actress to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, spoke about empowering herself as an actress, filmmaker and producer as she delved into topics like the creation of her production house, upcoming projects and possibly shooting parts of her next movie in Jeddah.
Berry, revealed to huge applause, that inspiration struck her on her flight to Jeddah for a new story she wants to direct.
“Finally on the plane coming here I saw a story, I saw what’s in my heart, and realised what I wanted to share,” said Berry, who recently launched production company HalleHolly with former WME partner Holly Jeter.
Asked by moderator and Lebanese presenter Raya Abirached to elaborate, Berry said, “It’s a love story at its core, but it deals with the supernatural and time travel and the future. It’s taken me the last few years to figure this out.”
Berry also spoke about her famous Oscar win in 2002 for her devastating role in Marc Forster’s “Monster’s Ball,” also starring Billy Bob Thornton.
About her win and speech, Berry said, “I don’t remember any of it and here’s why. I didn’t expect to win. I don’t know if anybody ever expects to win. Back in those days, usually whoever won the Golden Globe, would win the Oscars. So, any hopes I had were dashed when I lost to Siccy Spacek for the Golden Globe.
“And it was in that moment that I thought this was a good run. Look how far I got. I dared to take a chance and I took the role of ‘Monster’s Ball’ and all of my agents and everybody around me said this would be the end of my career.
“So, knowing all that, I didn’t write a speech. I just wanted to go and have fun and sort of bask in the moment of this achievement, being at the Academy Awards and being nominated. So, I was not prepared. So, when I went up there when they called my name, I absolutely went blank. And all I remember was Russell Crowe. Walking up there and seeing his face and hearing him say, ‘Breathe, mate.’ And I remember taking a big breath turning around and then it’s kind of a blur. And the next memory I really have is backstage, and realizing, ‘Oh! An Oscar!’ I think I saw it for the first time backstage.”
Berry also talked about her upcoming collaboration with Angelina Jolie for the action-comedy film “Maude v Maude,” which the two actresses are co-producing.
“I’m just thrilled to just work with another woman and craft a story from our sensibility, from our point of view. So many times, we’re characterised in movies, and the writers are usually men, so we’re portrayed from their perspective. And, so, there’s a female director, Angelina and I are there, and we can tell a story from our point of view.”
She also said the Warner Bros. film is a big action movie that will shoot around the world: “And maybe we’ll come back here (to Jeddah). When I was looking around the old town today, I was thinking about what we can get in here.”
Baz Luhrmann reflects on his biggest hits
Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann, known for films like “Romeo + Juliet,” “Moulin Rouge,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Elvis,” sat down with Raya Abirached to look back on his 30-year-long career, reflecting on his biggest hits.
Talking about his hit biographical film “Elvis,” starring Austin Butler in the lead role, Luhrmann went into some detail about losing hope on the film when COVID-19 hit. However, Butler never gave up, he said.
“Austin carried a very precious secret with him that he didn’t tell me about until much later in the process, and that is that he had lost his mother at exactly the same age that Elvis did. And it affected him profoundly because she was the one who would go with him to auditions and you know helped him start out. His work ethic was like… Denzel Washington rang me out of the blue. I didn’t know Denzel at the time. He said, ‘Look, you’re about to meet Austin Butler.’ Austin was doing a play with Denzel on stage and he said he’s never seen a young actor work as hard as he was. ‘You’ll be all over him,’ said Denzel. And I was,” said Luhrmann.
“And then the movie went away. I told everyone to go home from Australia. But Austin wouldn’t leave. He said, ‘I’m not leaving.’ We would see him walking up and down the beach and people would think he was mad because he’d be yelling his ‘Elvis’ lines into the ocean,” he added, laughing.
Luhrmann, in an offhand comment, also said he’s considering retiring while talking about how he picks the projects he works on.
“I’ve always got so many pieces in my mind and I’ll never make all of them. It’s just so much noise out there and not to criticize anyone but there’s just so much stuff out there. I would rather retire – which I am considering doing – and not put more noise out there. If I can’t put something that’s actually useful and can be worthy of someone’s incredibly precious two-and-a-half hours when you invite them into a darkened room with strangers to look at something that they can’t walk out and either be uplifted or moved or something… It’s got to be worthwhile to do it. That’s all they care about. And if I can believe I can do that, then I would do it,” he said.
Hollywood star Michelle Rodriguez talks women in cinema at RSIFF
Updated 07 December 2023
JEDDAH: Hollywood star Michelle Rodriguez sat down at the Red Sea International Film Festival’s Talent Days forum on Wednesday to shed light on her career choices, as well as the role of women in cinema.
Moderated by Saudi actor Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj at the Ritz-Carlton in Jeddah, the pair chatted candidly on the perceived divide between old Hollywood and television, with Rodriguez stating: “There is always a wall between old Hollywood and television where there are certain people you know in the industry wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole, and that has to do with the susceptibility.”
Known for her roles in action movies, including the fan-loved “Fast & Furious” franchise, Rodriguez reminded the audience that “films are about discovery and teamwork as much as it is about vision and storytelling.”
Rodriguez also discussed her criteria for selecting movies, highlighting her commitment to avoiding projects that contain nudity, negative portrayals of women, or drug dealers.
“I can’t play any negative character that misrepresents a woman as it is forbidden and I need to give little girls something else to see. If the script has a drug dealer or something like this, I will say no,” she said.
Reflecting on the representation of women in the film industry, Rodriguez noted the positive changes both on and off screen, saying: “The representation of women has changed... there are doors opening... it’s time for women to discover what that power is.”
Speaking of Mohammed Al-Turki, CEO of the Red Sea Film Foundation, Rodriguez commended his support for women in the industry.
“He has got more women in his film festival than any other film festival worldwide. His support, his desire to give voice to women is unparalleled. Nobody else does that,” she said.
The Red Sea International Film Festival runs until Dec. 9.
Filmmaker Dur Jamjoom takes emotional personal story to RSIFF
‘We have a new generation in Saudi Arabia that is coming in with great ideas and some stories that has never been heard before,’ Dur Jamjoom told Arab News
‘Kum-Kum’ follows 17-year-old Duna, who witnesses the fatal drowning of a young girl called Salwa
Updated 07 December 2023
DUBAI: Saudi filmmaker Dur Jamjoom is entering the film industry with a bang — her graduation film “Kum-Kum” is set to screen at the Red Sea International Film Festival, which runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9.
At just 23, the director already has six short films under her belt, with the 15-minute long “Kum-Kum” joining the pack.
“I feel grateful and blessed that they chose my short film, and it’s just a graduation film,” Jamjoom told Arab News. “I’ve worked so hard on this film and when I heard the news that they’re showcasing it at Red Sea, I was extremely excited and my whole family were excited too.”
“Kum-Kum” is inspired by a true story that happened to Jamjoom in 2012. “It’s about my friend who passed away at the age of 12. I was 12-years-old and it was all new for me to understand the concept of death and life,” she said.
“Because I was a child, people used to call me a robot, because I showed no emotions. whenever I went to funerals, I never understood the idea of people crying because someone passed away,” she recalled.
“When that time came and my friend passed away, it was all new for me. When I got into the funeral, I felt all these kinds of new emotions that started to (rise) up and I experienced new emotions that came into my mind and heart,” she said.
The short film follows 17-year-old Duna, who witnesses the fatal drowning of a young girl called Salwa. Duna is traumatized and struggles with residual feelings of hopelessness and an enduring fear of the water — until she realizes that she must go back to the beach to teach her younger sister how to swim.
“Kum-Kum” examines the philosophical aspects of life and death and “also talks about how someone’s passing can shape someone living,” Jamjoom said.
Jamjoom started working on the movie in 2022 when she took a screenwriting course at Effat University in Jeddah. “I wrote this script, but it was still a work in progress. I put it aside and I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to keep this script on the side forever. I want to work on it later on’,” she said.
“When my graduation project came, I pulled that out from the drawer and said, ‘OK, I’m going to work on this script.”
Her love of filmmaking began at a young age, when her cousin introduced her to TikTok’s precursor, musical.ly.
“I was very introverted. I didn’t know how to express my emotions,” she said. “At the age of 11, my cousin showed me an app that is now TikTok where you record and add music. I was so fascinated, and I started using this app. Every Saturday, I’d gather up all my cousins and I’d start recording them and start making silly videos. It got really serious and we started to think about which song we should choose to match the mood of the song and started doing changing costumes and everything. I was filming and directing them,” she said.
At the end of every week, Jamjoom would present her work to her family.
Jamjoom now works at the Red Sea Film Foundation’s Red Sea Labs, which the filmmaker said “creates multiple programs for feature films, short films, TV series and music. It teaches the new upcoming filmmakers, and the ones who are experienced, how to develop their projects.
“We have a new generation in Saudi Arabia that is coming in with great ideas and some stories that has never been heard before,” she said.
“It’s like a baby growing right now. Saudi Arabia is developing so much, especially with all the new architecture, the new construction and Vision 2030. Everything is happening all at once and cinema is also a part of that development,” she said.
Netflix shines spotlight on Arab women at the Red Sea International Film Festival
Updated 06 December 2023
JEDDAH: Streaming giant Netflix is taking part in Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival — set to run until Dec. 9 — with the “Because She Created” space, an installation at the event that shines a spotlight on female talent in the Arab world.
Organizers have focused on Adwa Bader, the Saudi-American interdisciplinary artist and star of Netflix’s upcoming local film “NAGA”; Saudi Arabia writer, performing artist, actor and director Fatima Al-Banawi, who is about to release her directorial debut “Basma”; and Haya Abdelsalam, who is the lead and creative producer behind Kuwaiti Netflix series “Devil’s Advocate.”
Bader spoke to Arab News about the initiative, saying it was important because “we as women have beautiful and powerful stories to tell, and the support of the industry is needed to not only help integrate us better but also recognize our work and the great stories that so many incredible Arab women are telling for the first time.”
Nuha El-Tayeb, content director for the Middle East, Africa and Turkiye at Netflix, echoed those sentiments, telling Arab News that it was critical to spotlight women, in particular, when it comes to the film industry in the region.
“It’s critical to authentic storytelling. Amplifying underrepresented voices, which includes Arab women, gives more people a chance to see their lives reflected on screen,” she said. “Arab women filmmakers are shifting perspectives and revolutionizing the industry in the region, creating Oscar-nominated films and representing the region at international film festivals and major platforms. It’s clear that they have important stories to tell.”
El-Tayeb went on to highlight some of the projects that the initiative has supported over the years — including the “Because She Created” writing program, AFAC-Netflix Creative Equity Fund and “Women in Film,” a training program for emerging talent.
“‘Because She Created,’ while born in the Arab world, is a borderless endeavor. Through content on the service, financial grants, upskilling initiatives, and exposure at regional film festivals, we’re providing an avenue for female storytellers to help break the glass ceiling for women in entertainment,” El-Tayeb said.
She added that when it comes to pitches, Netflix is interested in “stories that are authentic and relatable. Stories with universal themes that have broader appeal and can resonate with our members at home.”
When it comes to the entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia, Bader noted the importance of representation on screen.
“It’s a young industry,” the actress added of the film scene in Saudi Arabia. “And we have been waiting to see representation in an authentic way in film and culture. We’ve been waiting to tell our stories and see them on screen, and it’s incredible to witness the transformation,” she said.
When it comes to encouraging Saudi Arabia’s youth to see film as a viable career, the actress believes education is key.
“Art is for everyone, and it can be a viable career if one is willing to take that risk. It’s not easy to be an artist, it’s an emotional job and it’s risky because not everyone can relate, but that’s exactly the reason why it’s even more important to integrate art in formal education to support future generations and support their career choices,” she said.
Tamer Ruggli’s ‘Back to Alexandria’ starring Nadine Labaki dives into complex mother-daughter relationship
Swiss-Egyptian director Tamer Ruggli’s debut feature ‘Back to Alexandria’ stars lauded Lebanese actress Nadine Labaki
The film will screen at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival, with the director saying he expects it will resonate with Arab audiences
Updated 06 December 2023
DUBAI: Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival has attracted a slew of major titles for cinemagoers to watch before it wraps up on Dec. 9 and one of its most anticipated movies is Swiss-Egyptian director Tamer Ruggli’s debut feature, “Back to Alexandria.”
Starring veteran actors Nadine Labaki and Fanny Ardant, the film explores the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship with a script that features Arabic and French.
Sue (Labaki) is a psychotherapist living in Switzerland who returns to Egypt after 20 years to mend fences with her dying mother, Fairouz (Ardant).
Ruggli’s unconventional flick explores various layers of familial relationships.
The 37-year-old filmmaker told Arab News that he had initially wanted to do cartoons and later turned to film because it brought all the layers – colors, photography, costumes, and makeup – into one universe.
For his first movie, script development took seven years, and it became an ambitious project with a stellar cast.
He said: “We have a great cast of famous Arab actors that accepted to work on this more arthouse kind of film that they were normally used to.”
The film draws extensive references from his childhood.
“I grew up listening to my mother’s story on her relationship with her mother, how it affected her — she is the pretext of telling the story. But it’s very inspired by my childhood memories; the people I met growing up and those who have shaped me. I like to say it’s semi-autobiographical,” Ruggli added.
As mother and daughter unearth the past, Sue learns about Fairouz’s love life and better understands the complexities of their relationship.
He said: “Sue has an idealized image of her mother, and she discovers some things about her love life – that she loved someone else and had to marry a different person. She had to sacrifice a part of herself, so she rejected her daughter in a way. It symbolizes the freedom that she didn’t have.”
Aside from examining a contentious mother-daughter relationship, Ruggli has also included the presence of aunts in the film, making it even more relatable to Arab audiences.
“There’s this love-hate relationship with aunts – sometimes they even replace the mother’s role. So, we have different aunts present in the movie.
“For instance, Nadine’s character has this very close relationship with her aunt’s help, which is more human than that she has with her family,” he added.
One highlight of the film is the candy pink Cadillac Sue is seen driving around in, imagining conversations about things left unsaid between her and her mother. The car, which belongs to Fairouz, becomes a symbol of the mother’s eccentricity.
Ruggli said: “The car is very feminine and exuberant and is reminiscent of the mother. She’s this flamboyant character that lived in Egypt and always stood out from the crowd.”