DIFF AT LINCOLN CENTER
Orientation: A New Arab Cinema
Among the effects of the recent Arab Spring has been a welcome focus on the emerging cinemas throughout the Arab world. New filmmakers, often educated outside the region and well aware of contemporary international film styles, have begun to create a new Arab cinema that fearlessly engages in a dialog with their respective societies, broaching subjects unthinkable even a decade ago. Among the most important forces in this cinematic renaissance has been the Dubai International Film Festival, which offers a number of programs to develop and support new talents. We are pleased to present this series of recent feature films and SHORTs, all supported by DIFF, as an introduction to a new film movement about which we will surely be hearing much more in the years to come. Series programmed by Richard Peña and Isa Cucinotta.
AMREEKA by Cherien Dabis (Feature)
Amreeka. Cherien Dabis, 2009, USA/Canada/Palestine; 96m
New York-based filmmaker Cherien Dabis’s miraculous first feature is a humanist drama inflected with humor. Amreeka chronicles a bittersweet adjustment to a multicultural way of life after Muna, a single mother from Ramallah, and Fadi, her teenage son, move to Middle America. The problem is their timing: they arrive in the U.S. just as the U.S. enters Baghdad. How mother and son cope with each other and adjust to the “American” relatives who welcome them is as much the revelatory subject of Amreeka as is their reactions to the strange behavior of ordinary people in this land of liberty. Amreeka neatly describes the Palestinian Diaspora in terms of non-belonging and introduces American audiences to the marvelous, Haifa-trained actress Nisreen Faour in a fearless performance.
A Palestinian mother and son arrive in Middle America just as the US is entering Baghdad, charging their welcome to their new homeland with suspicion and hostility. AUG 26, 27
Beirut Hotel/Beyrouth hôtel. Daniele Arbid, 2011, Lebanon/France/Sweden; 99m
Lebanon -2011 – Arabic, French language with English subtitle- Color - 96’
Embroiled in a messy divorce, night club singer Zoha (Darine Hamzé) meets Mathieu (Charles Berling), a French lawyer in Beirut on business; the two enter into a passionate affair that becomes a refuge from both their personal turmoil as well as the impending chaos outside the hotel’s walls. Daniele Arbid creates a portrait of Beirut as a tinderbox, full of explosive tensions and ready to ignite at any moment. One of France’s most sought-after actors, Berling offers a beautifully calibrated performance as Mathieu: perhaps this Frenchman really is the spy some Lebanese claim he is. Darine Hamzé as Zoha reveals a vulnerability and innocence that contradict the sultry, world-wise performer. A taut romantic thriller, Beirut Hotel was initially banned from Lebanese theaters for mentioning the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
A sultry nightclub singer escapes from a messy divorce into the arms of a French lawyer visiting Beirut, who may just be the spy some people claim he is, in Daniele Arbid’s taut romantic thriller. AUG 26, 29
Cairo Exit/El Khoroug. Hesham Issawi, 2010, Egypt/UAE; 96m
In the timely and resonant Cairo Exit, every character is looking for a way out. Amal, a Coptic Christian woman, is torn between staying home and caring for her mother or eloping with her Muslim boyfriend. Her sister Rania has been romancing a successful businessman, but desperately tries to find money for an operation that will “restore” her virginity. Abandoned by her husband, the other sister, Hanan, is reduced to prostitution in order support their child. Through these and other stories, director and co-screenwriter Hesham Issawi sketches a portrait of a country pushed to its limit, where the desperation that defines daily life threatens to explode. Well acted, especially by newcomer Maryhan A in the key role of Amal, Cairo Exit, although completed months before the recent Egyptian uprising, chronicles the feelings that led thousands to Tahrir Square.
Through a series of interlocking stories involving characters each pushed to their limits, Hesham Issawi powerfully captures the national mood that led thousands to Tahrir Square. AUG 30
The Rif Lover/L’amante du rif. Narjiss Nejjar, 2011, Morocco/France/Belgium; 90m
A visually ravishing tale of women struggling against the bonds of tradition, The Rif Lover firmly established its director, Narjiss Nejjar as one of the most important voices in her generation. Set in a small seaside village, the film tells the story of Aya, 20-years old, curious and impatient to discover what the world might offer. Her brothers have gotten involved with a local drug smuggler known as The Baron; when trying to work out a drug shipment with him, Aya’s older brother offers her to The Baron, setting a motion a chain of events that will leave no one unchanged. Throughout the film, Nejjar uses Bizet’s Carmen as a counterpoint to Aya’s dreams: from the fictional heroine’s fiery independence, Aya draws inspiration, but as her best friend reminds her, in the opera it’s Carmen herself who pays the ultimate price.
The dreams of a free-spirited young woman in a tranquil seaside village are shattered when she’s betrayed by her own brother, in Narjiss Nejjar’s ravishing modern fable. AUG 24, 29
Zindeeq. Michel Khleifi, 2009, Palestine/UK/Belgium/UAE; 85m
UK, UAE, Palestine – Arabic language with English subtitles - Color - DigiBeta - 2009 – 85’
One of the founders of Palestinian cinema, Michel Khleifi was at last able to return to fiction feature filmmaking (after an absence of 14 years) with this bold, revealing look at the different meanings of the naqba (the “disaster” of the 1948 founding of Israel) for succeeding generations of Palestinians. M (played by Mohammed Bakri) is a filmmaker long ago settled in Europe. He returns to his native Nazareth ostensibly to film survivors of the 1948 war and expulsion, but the testimony he captures exists as fragments, shards of personal experiences that refuse to coalesce into a coherent narrative. Moreover, the trip home brings up long buried family issues, especially M’s relation to his parents, who chose to stay in Nazareth rather than flee. A fascinating look at how Palestinians relate to each other, Zindeeq is a thoughtful, challenging work.
A Palestinian filmmaker, long settled abroad, returns to his native Nazareth to confront the ghosts of his nation’s as well as his family’s past. AUG 25, 29
The Last Friday/Al juma al akheira. Yahya Al-Abdallah, 2011, Jordan/UAE; 88m
Having gambled away all he owned—in the process losing his wife and son—Yousef lives a humble, stoic life, driving a cab and simply letting the world pass by without ever involving himself in it. Then one day he’s diagnosed as urgently needing an operation he knows he can’t afford, and the sense of his impending mortality pushes Yousef to break out of the shell he’s so carefully created and reach out one final time to those he once cared for. The first Jordanian film to be invited to be screened at the Berlin Film Festival, The Last Friday is touching, carefully observed portrait of a man without a sense of place in a rapidly-changing society. Lead actor Ali Suliman, familiar from his work with Divine Intervention director Elia Suleiman (as well as a stint on Homeland) turns in a carefully measure performance that allows us to feel his pain while never portraying his character as a victim. .
Faced with the urgent need for an operation he can’t afford, a cab driver tries to re-establish contact with those he once loved in Yahya Al-Abdallah’s award-winning debut feature. AUG 25, 27
Habibi. Susan Youssef, 2011, Palestine/Netherlands/USA/UAE; 78m
Young lovers Qays (Kais Nashif) and Layla (Maisa Abd Elhadi) are university students in the West Bank who hail from Khan Yunis in Gaza. He is pursuing a degree in literature and she in engineering, but they are forced to return home before completing their courses. In the more religious and traditional environment of Khan Yunis, their love story can continue only by marrying. Yet Qays, who is a construction worker living in a refugee camp, is too poor to convince Layla’s father that he can provide for his beloved daughter. As the couple struggles to be together, Qays paints verses from the classical poem Majnun Layla all over Khan Yunis, a rebellious act that angers Layla’s father and the local self-appointed moral police. Lyrical and passionate, Habibi depicts a reality where personal happiness must be weighed against society’s opinions, and a choice sometimes made between one’s people and one’s heart.
Lyrical and passionate, Susan Youssef’s widely-acclaimed first feature follows star-crossed lovers who must weight their love and desire against society’s expectations. AUG 25, 27
City of Life. Ali F. Mostafa, 2009, UAE; 100m
A crossroads between East and West, traditional ways and contemporary lifestyles, Dubai is truly the star of this pioneering first feature film by London-trained Ali F. Mostafa. The pampered son of a wealthy family bristles under the expectations of his parents; a former Romanian ballet dancer (Youth Without Youth star Alexandra Maria Lara) seeks to create a new life far away from her homeland; an Indian cabdriver with an uncanny resemblance to a Bollywood star tries to not let dreams take over his reality. These and other stories together create a kaleidoscope of contemporary Dubai; the action moves from chic restaurants to humble workers’ quarters, tracing the diverse experiences for both natives and expats is a city that’s constantly reinventing itself. Mostafa ably juggles all is various plots, allowing each of them equal time as a way of perhaps pointing out the many ways that Dubai can be experienced.
A groundbreaking first feature film from the Emirates offers a kaleidoscopic tour of contemporary Dubai, tracing the delicate social conventions and expectations that define life for both natives and expats. AUG 25, 27
Every Day is a Holiday/Chaque jour est un fête. Dima El-Horr, 2009, Lebanon/France/Germany; 87m
A stunning first scene immediately establishes the highly charged atmosphere in Dima El-Horr’s carefully controlled first feature, filled with absurd moments and symbolic gestures. Three women (Hiam Abbass, Manal Khader, Raïa Haïdar) with very different motives board a bus on the Lebanese Day of Liberation to visit their husbands in jail. When the bus is stopped SHORT by a stray bullet, the women are left to find their own way in the hot sun through mountains full of mines, amid sounds of muffled explosions, throngs of refugees, and rumors of massacres. Their perilous journey becomes an internal one towards liberation, as individual life and collective memory blend, and the personal and political are blurred.
Traveling to visit their jailed husbands, three women are left to make their own way through mine-laden mountains, throngs of refugees and rumors of massacres. AUG 28
Zelal. Marianne Khoury & Mustapha Hasnaoui, 2010, Egypt/France/Morocco/UAE; 90m
One of the hallmarks of the emerging Arab cinema has been its willingness to explore areas of society formerly considered off limits to the gaze of outsiders. Such was the world of Egypt’s psychiatric hospitals, forbidding institutions where those deemed incapable to adapting to society’s demands are warehoused, sometimes for decades. Marianne Khoury and Mustapha Hasnaoui reveal the inner workings of two such hospitals, introducing us to the committed if wildly overworked staff that do their best against overwhelming odds, but especially to the patients. We meet women sent there after an argument with their husbands, and middle-aged men living there since they were unruly boys. Rejected by normal society, these modern-day “social lepers” have created their own society, with its own conventions, hierarchies and forms of relationships, which Khoury and Hasnaoui reveal to us with insight, patience and respect. Winner of the International Critics’ prize at the 2010 Dubai International Film Festival.
Hard-hitting journalism, as well as a reflection on how we care for those deemed different or difficult, Khoury and Hasnaoui’s prize-wining film explores the world of Egypt’s psychiatric hospitals. AUG 26, 30
NOŞ CHEERS TO YOU by Soleen Yusef (SHORT)
Germany / 2011 / German, Kurdish dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / HDCam / 21’
Havi and Vina, two young Kurdish-Germans, try to balance different cultures. They agree to a traditional marriage, arranged by their parents. However, on the day of the wedding, a German ex-boyfriend reappears and turns Vina's world upside down.
FATIN DRIVES ME CRAZY by Mohammed Sendi (SHORT)
Saudi Arabia – 2011 - Arabic dialogue with English subtitles – Colour - DigiBeta – 21’
Fatin and Sultan are happy young newly-weds in Saudi Arabia. However, Fatin struggles with her dependence on Sultan, as he goes to work and the couple does not have a driver.
GARAGOUZ by Abdenour Zahzah (SHORT)
Algeria / 2010 / Arabic dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / DigiBeta / 24’
Mokhtar earns his living as a puppeteer, aided by his son. Using his old van, he moves between schools scattered in the Algerian countryside, encountering the prejudices and obstacles of others as he goes. A beautifully observed and filmed cinematic gem.
LAND OF THE HEROES by Sahim Omar Kalifa (SHORT)
Iraq / 2011 / Kurdish, Arabic dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / DigiBeta / 19’
Filmmaker Sahim Omar Kalifa revisits his childhood memories of the First Gulf War, between Iran and Iraq; a conflict now largely overshadowed by contemporary wars in the region. The film is shot entirely on location in Iraq.
SABEEL by Khalid Al Mahmood (SHORT)
UAE – 2011 – No dialogue – Color - HDCam – 20’
Two small boys live with their elderly grandmother in the mountains of the UAE. Spending their days tending their vegetables and then selling produce on the road, they have to earn enough money to buy medicine for their sick grandmother. This sweet, poignant film explores their lives and the world in which they live. 'Sabeel' won a script prize at the 2010 Gulf Film Festival, and the Best SHORT Film at The New York Film Eurasian Festival, and debuted at the Locarno Film Festival.
SAMIR’S ROOM by Osama Qashoo (SHORT)
United Kingdom, Palestine / 2011 / Arabic, English, Hebrew dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / HDCam / 15 ‘
Samir returns from college to find Israeli settlers have occupied his family home. His past and memories have been erased. In this gentle warm-hearted story set in Jerusalem, we realize the comfort and solace of a bedroom.
THE ROAD TO PARADISE by Uda Benyamina (SHORT)
France - 2011 - Arabic, French dialogue with English subtitles - Color -DigiBeta - 43’
Leila and her two children, Sarah and Bilal, have left their native land to settle in France, in search of a better life, and Leila's husband, who is a refugee in England. Survival is tough and gets toughter, when she finds a lead to her husband…
THE SALT FISHERMAN by Ziad Bakri (SHORT)
Palestine / 2011 / Arabic dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / TBC/ 18’
A fisherman lives alone. His days and nights are fraught with waiting. He rises with the sun and carries his anxieties and tools to the sea, where he fishes. What lies hidden behind his days?
THE MASSEUR by Anouar Lahouar (SHORT)
Tunisia / 2011 / Arabic dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / TBC / 24’
Ounaïess, a masseur, works at a Moorish Bath. When two brothers are unable to find an undertaker, Ounaïess is called to assist with the funeral formalities. He accepts, however, once back at his regular job,he finds it difficult to work with his patrons, who are alive.