Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF

Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF
Mohamed Ben Attia in Paris in 2016. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 02 December 2023
Follow

Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF

Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF
  • The film heads to Saudi Arabia after screening at the Venice Film Festival this year
  • The director has won multiple awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and has been nominated for prizes in Venice and Chicago, among other festivals

DUBAI: Years ago, Tunisian filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia was struck by an image he couldn’t get out of his head. It was a man running towards a cliff, and when he reached the edge, he started to fly. He knew there was greatness in it — a perfect image of freedom. He felt it could perhaps be the basis for his greatest film. But as he wrote and he wrote, nothing came of it. The emotions felt flat. It wasn’t that the idea wasn’t ready — he wasn’t ready himself.   

“I was maybe 20 years old at the time. I was childish and immature. Everything I wrote made little sense to me,” Ben Attia tells Arab News. “But when I finished my film ‘Hedi’ in 2016, the idea returned. Suddenly this idea of a man flying started appearing in my mind beside my own emotions — the rage I was feeling deep within myself. And then these feelings and that image started to blend.” 

At the start of December, “Behind the Mountains,” the result of that renewed inspiration, will screen in competition at the 2023 Red Sea International Film Festival, after receiving support from the Red Sea Fund while in production. The film made its acclaimed debut at the Venice International Film Festival in September, and as much as Ben Attia put his all into the making of the film, seeing audiences react to such a deeply personal and multifaceted movie can sometimes be painful.  




Ben Attia on set with Walid Bouchhioua, who stars as Yassine in “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied)

“I hate this at times, to be honest. I know I’m supposed to love it, but it can be difficult when people get so confused by watching it, trying to figure out what it’s trying to tell them,” Ben Attia says. “This is part of doing cinema — a film cannot be loved by everyone. But it’s a very strange feeling with this film particularly, because it’s hard even for me to explain the meaning of the film, as well as for many to understand what drives this character to begin with.”  

“Behind the Mountains” begins simply enough, at least. Rafik is released from a Tunisian prison, four years after his mental health issues manifested as a violent outburst in his former workplace. He now believes he can fly, and kidnaps his young son to take him to a special place behind the mountains to show him that his vision is real.  

There are many potential interpretations of this tale, but it’s hard not to draw parallels to the story of Tunisia itself, even for Ben Attia. Almost exactly 13 years ago, the Tunisian Revolution began, culminating in the ousting of the Ben Ali government and the start of a still-ongoing redrawing of the Tunisian political landscape and a reorganization of the country’s society at large.  




Ben Attia on set with Majd Mastoura, who stars as Rafik in “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied)

In a time of great upheaval, a world of possibility emerges. Suddenly, the future feels free — enough to make a man feel that he could fly, because perhaps he can. But is the anarchy of freedom a blessing? A curse? Both? And can anything truly change if people continue to impose the same mental shackles on themselves as they did before? It’s a complicated subject that has caused more than a few headaches, to put it lightly.  

“I would say that, since our revolution happened, the busiest people in our society have been the psychiatrists. Because it wasn’t just that things changed politically — it was also a revolution of the individual; a revolution of feeling,” Ben Attia explains. 

“The idea that this regime could change was impossible for us to imagine. So it gave us the feeling that anything could happen, even in our own lives. That’s why people started changing professions, getting divorced… That’s exactly where this film finds its characters — in moments where they come to their own realizations of possibility, their own understandings of how things can be different, for better or for worse.”  




A still from “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied) 

Ben Attia has changed a lot, too. Over the last decade, his work has captured the attention of the film community cross the world. 2016’s “Hedi” won the Best First Feature award at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival and was co-produced by the renowned Dardenne brothers. His next film, “Dear Son,” was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and was the Tunisian entry for the Best International Film category of that year’s Academy Awards.   

Part of what has kept him grounded as his star rises is his second career, the one he rarely talks about.  

“I have a strange life, to be frank. While I’m doing all of this, I’m also a chef in my family’s Italian restaurants in Tunis. I get my ideas for films when I’m working in my kitchen. It gives me balance in my own life when I have these dual identities. It takes the pressure off. When I was just doing nothing, no ideas came. I have to work in the restaurant — I have to be making pasta fresca to get a little bit inspired. It allows me to see things I couldn’t have in any other circumstance,” says Ben Attia.  

But while the kitchen is where the ideas start to flow, art is still an act of self-therapy, especially as it can often contain complex and contradictory ideas that everyday linear thought often can’t. 




A still from “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied)

“We are living in strange times, especially with what’s happening in Gaza and everywhere else,” Ben Attia says. “It’s not just our region of the world, it’s also about the identity of the Arab people and our relation to the Occident. As an artist, that fills us with contradictions — today I think something and tomorrow I think something very different. But thankfully, we are not making science, we are making cinema. We’re still discovering what the truth could be, and what our future could be.”  

At each screening of “Behind the Mountains,” Ben Attia gets different interpretations from the audience of all the things it may be saying. And with every question, he has more time to consider what he thinks about both the work and the world he’s living in — and he hasn’t quite worked it out. But that’s the beauty of cinema, as he says, and when his next film idea comes to the boil back in his kitchen, he’s ready to see where his inspiration takes him next.  

“I’m giving myself boundaries: first, just follow the promotion of this film just to understand better what I did and how, and why I did it. Even if that hurts, it’s good to do, and it’s good to react to what happened with this film,” he says. “Even now, I have a vague idea — I have another image I’m getting ready to pursue. But I’m in no rush. I want to take my time and see if it’s still there in a few months, and if that’s the case, then I’m ready to start for sure on the right foot.” 


UK beauty brand explains Bella Hadid contract termination

UK beauty brand explains Bella Hadid contract termination
Updated 02 March 2024
Follow

UK beauty brand explains Bella Hadid contract termination

UK beauty brand explains Bella Hadid contract termination

DUBAI: British beauty brand Charlotte Tilbury this week responded to claims surrounding the termination of its contract with Bella Hadid, saying that the decision was not based on the US Dutch Palestinian model’s “personal views,” but because she is launching her own beauty brand.

A statement from the company, published in The Independent, said: “Bella Hadid and Charlotte Tilbury Beauty’s professional relationship has come to its end as Bella prepares to launch her own beauty brand.

“It is absolutely not the case that any personal views held by Bella impacted our contract or relationship with her.

“As a female-led business, Charlotte Tilbury Beauty continues to support Bella and looks forward to the exciting launch of Orebella later this year,” the statement added.

Last month, Hadid announced on Instagram that she is launching a brand called Orebella on May 2. 

While details about the brand and its offerings remain under wraps, WWD Magazine reported that Hadid’s trademark filing, dating back to 2022, hints at Orebella’s focus on scent-related products. These may include fragrances, incense, body lotions, oils, shampoo, conditioner and candles. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

The model shared a 10-second teaser on Instagram showing a close-up of her face and culminating with the brand’s logo.

Hadid was named the face of Charlotte Tilbury in March 2023. 

Her debut campaign in June promoted the new Airbrush Flawless Lip Blur, a hydrating matte liquid lipstick formulated with hyaluronic acid to boost hydration. She joined a glittering roster that included actress Lily James, and models Jourdan Dunn and Kate Moss. 


Art Dubai’s 17th fair: A showcase of global talent and cultural commentary

Art Dubai’s 17th fair: A showcase of global talent and cultural commentary
Updated 02 March 2024
Follow

Art Dubai’s 17th fair: A showcase of global talent and cultural commentary

Art Dubai’s 17th fair: A showcase of global talent and cultural commentary

DUBAI: The 17th Art Dubai fair, where more than 100 galleries from around the world put on their best presentations of contemporary, modern and digital art, is open for business.

Non-commercial activities, such as artist talks and children’s programming, have also been organized for the event, which runs from March 1 until March 3.

Art Dubai 2024, Installation view. (Supplied)

Event organizers have reinforced their longtime commitment to shining a light on talent emerging from the Global South, from Latin America to North Africa and the Far East.

“We have our own way of reading what contemporary art is,” the fair’s Spanish artistic director Pablo del Val said. “We exhibit and try to push proposals that are coming from geographies that aren’t the focus in any major art fair in the West.”

Art Dubai 2024, Installation view. (Supplied)

The concept of healing is the theme of the fair’s contemporary section, featuring paintings, installations, sculptures, textile works, among other artistic mediums. Meanwhile, the modern section pays tribute to regional masters who were active in the 20th century. This year, the focus is on ties between Arab artists and the Soviet Union, where some received their formal education.

An interesting booth at Art Dubai Digital comes courtesy of a London-based design practice, Looty, which is implementing technological means to “digitally take back” stolen African artifacts stored in Western museums. “We were inspired by a fact that comes from the UN: 95 percent of African culture and heritage is held outside of Africa. Hearing that shocked us and also inspired us,” Looty’s co-founder, Ahmed Abokor, told Arab News.

With their faces covered in masks, Abokor and his gallery partner Chidirim Nwaubani went inside London’s British Museum, committing a “digital heist,” in which they 3D-scanned African artifacts with their phones and iPads. “It’s symbolic,” said Abokor. “We incited a bit of worry, probably, but we didn’t actually take anything. We actually did our due diligence, speaking to lawyers three months before we went in there. We didn’t want to do anything illegal.” At the fair, a handful of Benin statues are displayed in eye-catching 3D hologram presentations.

Art Dubai 2024, Installation view. (Supplied)

Meanwhile, in the contemporary section, Dubai’s Tabari Art Space is returning to the fair with an all-women booth, showcasing colorful works on paper, paintings and stitched pieces, exploring themes of the land and the body, by Levant and Gulf artists Tagreed Darghouth, Maitha Abdalla, Chafa Ghaddar, Hana Almilli, Miramar Al-Nayyar and Aya Haidar. “Corporeal: Lands Through The Female Gaze” is the title of the overall exhibit, envisioned by the gallery’s founder, Maliha Tabari, who, in her own words, “wanted to do something different.

“We’re female-led as a gallery,” Tabari told Arab News. “In these past three years, we naturally picked up many female artists from this part of the world because we want to represent them ... The woman in our region is strong and we wanted to show her strength.”

At a time of continuing violence in Gaza, some fairgoers expressed their solidarity by wearing Palestinian-inspired garments, such as the black-and-white “keffiyeh” headscarf. Based between Dubai and Ramallah, Zawyeh Gallery, specializing in showcasing emerging and established Palestinian artists, is represented at the fair. At its multi-artist booth, the Palestinian painter Khaled Hourani is showing a series of watermelon images (many of which have been sold). The fruit, bearing the same colors as the Palestinian flag, has become a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Art Dubai 2024, Installation view. (Supplied)

From Marrakech, Comptoir des Mines Galerie is presenting a selection of works by Moroccan artists who use natural materials, such as soil and metal, in their creations. In particular, a standout work comes from French-Moroccan artist Sara Ouhaddou, who juxtaposed geometrical pieces of tinted Iraqi glass into a large circular form made of wood. The work, entitled “Time is still long — beyond our perception” is partially about regional artisans and how the cultural legacy of hand craftsmanship is being lost.

A number of the older generation of artists are also represented at Art Dubai by nine galleries, hailing from Beirut, Dubai, Kampala, London, among other cities. Jeddah’s Hafez Gallery is showcasing one large, vibrant painting by the Yemeni artist Hakim Al-Akel, who was born in 1965. Entitled “Dialogue in the Market,” the highly patterned painting was created in 1991, portraying a leafy scene populated by a few workers and sellers.

Art Dubai 2024, Installation view. (Supplied)

There are also monochromatic works by the Saudi artist Abdulsattar Al-Mussa, who formerly lived in Russia and Ukraine. Being away from his homeland inspired him to make images that were based on his memories.

“I think it’s important to show Abdulsattar at Art Dubai because he has had a lot of success abroad,” Hafez Gallery’s curatorial director, Alexandra Stock, told Arab News, “but it’s very nice that he is having another upwind, a push in the region, that he’s being acknowledged back home.”


The Real Housewives of Dubai season 2 teaser drops

The Real Housewives of Dubai season 2 teaser drops
Updated 02 March 2024
Follow

The Real Housewives of Dubai season 2 teaser drops

The Real Housewives of Dubai season 2 teaser drops

DUBAI: Bravo dropped a brief teaser on Instagram this week for the second season of “The Real Housewives of Dubai,” announcing that the season premiere will air on June 2.

“The drama in this desert is just getting started,” bravo tweeted with the video. “Here’s your first look at Season 2 of #RHODubai.”

The show will once again star season one’s Chanel Ayan, Caroline Brooks, Sara Al-Madani, Lesa Milan and Caroline Stanbury, who will be joined by new housewife Taleen Marie.

Marie announced in November that she will be part of season two, saying: “I feel so blessed and excited to be a part of the @nbcuniversal and Bravo franchise.”

The 30-second teaser showcased snippets from the series, featuring the housewives raising their glasses in a toast to “new beginnings.” However, the celebratory atmosphere quickly gives way to conflict as tensions escalate within the group.

The full trailer is yet to be released.


Georgina Rodriguez walks for Vetements during Paris Fashion Week

Georgina Rodriguez walks for Vetements during Paris Fashion Week
Updated 02 March 2024
Follow

Georgina Rodriguez walks for Vetements during Paris Fashion Week

Georgina Rodriguez walks for Vetements during Paris Fashion Week

DUBAI: Argentine model Georgina Rodriguez, who is based in Saudi Arabia, experienced an eventful week. She graced the runway for the Swiss fashion label Vetements during Paris Fashion Week and also featured in a campaign for the Arab brand Amara Lenses.

In a striking ensemble, the Netflix star donned a sizzling red dress adorned with the name of her long-time partner, Portugese football star Cristiano Ronaldo.

The top of the dress resembled a football jersey, while the flowing skirt boasted a lengthy pleated train.

The back of her dress bore Ronaldo’s signature, the renowned footballer who currently showcases his skills with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr FC.

Georgina Rodriguez donned a sizzling red dress. (Getty Images)

In a heartfelt dedication, Ronaldo penned: “For the love of my life Gio x Vetements, Cristiano Ronaldo,” adding a personal touch to the ensemble.

The brand’s designer Guram Gvasalia drew out the proportions of clothing for the label’s 10th anniversary catwalk presentation, which brought crowds of celebrities, including Cher.

Russian model Natalia Vodianova opened the show, walking briskly down the red-carpeted runway in a thick, tailored suit with heightened shoulders and bulky trousers, and a fitted, low-cut bustier.

The back of her dress bore Ronaldo’s signature. (Getty Images)

A series of oversize looks followed, including suits in crinkly materials, a long T-shirt with sleeves that splayed out to the side, a hulking camouflage ensemble and jeans with extra fabric that trailed behind.

“The most Vetements show ever,” the label posted on Instagram in the run-up to show. “You’ve been waiting for it for ten years.”

Amara Lenses, whose products are available in the Gulf region, dropped a new campaign featuring Rodriguez.

In the short clip, posted on the brand’s Instagram page on Thursday, the Netflix star was spotted sporting the company’s brown and grey lenses.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

In one shot, she was seen wearing face accessories inspired by the Gulf region’s burqa.

“Introducing our latest collection in collaboration with Georgina Rodriguez,” the brand captioned the post on Instagram.

Rodriguez was named the brand ambassador in March 2023.

“I’m so happy to be the face of Amara Lenses and it’s been wonderful to work with you,” she said in a video shared on the brand’s Instagram page at the time.


Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities
Updated 01 March 2024
Follow

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities
  • This year is 65th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries
  • Mayor: Brazil seeks to ‘strengthen commercial, cultural, friendship relations’ with Arab states

SAO PAULO: Foz do Iguacu in Brazil and Petra in Jordan officially became sister cities this week.
A memorandum of understanding was signed by Foz do Iguacu’s Mayor Chico Brasileiro and Maen Masadeh, Jordan’s ambassador to Brazil.
The ceremony took place at the Palacio Cataratas, the city hall headquarters in Foz do Iguacu.
The MoU consolidates a partnership that promises to strengthen cooperation in various areas such as culture, local economic development, public services and social policies.
“In 2024, we celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Jordan, and signing this document … means that we (Foz do Iguacu and Petra) are aligned with foreign policy,” Masadeh said.
The process began in 2018 when the Foz do Iguacu city hall expressed its interest in establishing ties with Petra, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Wonders of the World.
Foz do Iguacu has one of the seven Natural Wonders, the Iguacu Falls, and one of the Wonders of the World, the Itaipu Dam.
“We are very excited about this partnership,” Brasileiro said at the signing ceremony. “This is a strategy of Brazil, to … strengthen its commercial, cultural and friendship relations with Arab countries.”
The first concrete step toward implementing the MoU took place on Thursday with the opening of the exhibition “City of Petra, Jordan” at the Cultural Foundation in Foz do Iguacu.
The free exhibition, which will continue until the end of March, portrays the historical and archaeological richness of Petra in southern Jordan, with stunning images, authentic artifacts and detailed information.
“The presence of this exhibition in our city is not only a celebration of the history and beauty of Petra, but also a bridge that connects our communities in a special way,” said Juca Rodrigues, president of the foundation.
“Cultural diversity is a treasure that should be shared and appreciated by all, and this exhibition is a crucial step in that direction.”
Jihad Abu Ali, director of international affairs in Foz do Iguacu, said: “This is a moment of joy and fulfillment, as we see the materialization of the fruit of a collective effort to promote cultural understanding and friendship between our communities.”