Arab Muhr Features Look at Life, Love and Tragedy Through An Arab Lens

Thu Nov 27,2008

12 Contenders for Awards Range from Iraq to Italy,  Catherine Deneuve to Hafsia Herzi

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) has selected 12 films to compete in the third annual Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema, offering DIFF festival-goers a chance to see the most recent offerings in Arab film from across the world, from Iraq to Italy and France to Morocco.

Erfan Rashid, Arabic Programme Consultant of the Competition, expanded on the offerings: “This year’s submissions to the Muhr Awards were overwhelming, both in terms of quality and caliber—we have films from established directors and numerous feature debuts contending for the prize, and the distinguished jury members will have a difficult job of attempting to choose a winner. We are delighted that our efforts to stimulate and provide a platform for Arab filmmaking are meeting with such a warm response, and I’m sure audience members will feel the same way when they see the films at DIFF 2008.”

Three of the films concern the North African experience in Europe, moving between cultures, often at the margins of society.  In Francaise, the debut feature from acclaimed Moroccan director Souad El-Bouhati, award-winning actress Hafsia Herzi plays Sophia, whose Moroccan family lives in France. Her world is turned upside down when her father loses his job, prompting a move back to Morocco, where Sophia must reconcile her two cultures. Adhen-Dernier Maquis is set in a Paris truck yard populated by disaffected Arab and African workers. Their boss Mao creates an on-site mosque—a move that creates a backlash no one could have expected. In Hal ta Dakkar Adil? (Do You Remember Adil), Adil moves to Bologna to live with his brother Faouzi, whose strange social life includes a young doctor recently converted to Islam.

Two unlikely stories about love and marriage offer a quixotic twist to the competition: Masquerades (Mascarades) concerns Mounir, who lives with his family and narcoleptic sister Rym in a little village in the heart of the Algerian Aures. One evening, respectable Mounir returns from the town drunk and announces that he’s found a rich suitor for Rym. The planning begins—without a bridegroom. Anesthesiologist Youssef and disgruntled talk show host Laila of Geninat al Asmak (The Aquarium) are typical thirtysomething Cairenes—professional, single, emotionally guarded,  and faced with a world where traditional, secular and religious influences collide. Their hesitant romance is a self-reflexive look at the mysteries of love.

Delving into the political history of the Maghreb, Thalathoun (Thirty)is being touted as Tunisia’s most expensive movie project. Veteran director Fadhel Jaziri’s epic project has been a decade in the works, and charts the lives of three very distinct Tunisian political figures.

Mostefa ben Boulaid ( By the Algirian master – director Ahmed Rachidy)  is the story of the Algerian hero who was the real commandant of the Algerian revolution. Having led the beginning of the rebellion from jail, he refused to be acknowledged as a leader, instead operating in a staunchly democratic form.

Action adventure fans will enjoy two competition films: In master-director and writer Abdellatif Abdelhamid’s Ayyam el Dhajar (Days of Boredom), the soldier father of four unruly boys is stationed with his family in the Golan Heights in 1958, as Egypt and Syria try to establish the United Arab Republic. The family exists happily near the front line, but as they are relocated further into Syria they enter a heart of darkness. Milh Hadha al Bahr (Salt of This Sea) is a dramatic thriller by first-time feature director Annemarie Jacir. Soraya is a Brooklyn-born Palestinian who returns to her homeland. Disillusioned by the harsh reality of life there, she teams up with a young Palestinian, Emad. As they struggle to realise their dreams, they must take matters into their own hands.

Three films lend immediacy to issues of violence,  whether between countries or communities. In Je Veux Voir (I Want to See),  the film-making team of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige invited iconic French actress Catherine Deneuve to view the devastation of the 2006 Israeli bombing of Lebanon. Working with Lebanese actor and artist Rabih Mroue, Deneuve witnesses the destruction first-hand in a mix of scripted drama and travel diary. Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s Casanegra is a realist drama suffused with the violent, chaotic authenticity of Casablanca, led by two young non-professional leads selected from thousands of the itinerant men living on the Casablanca streets. L’Aube du Monde (Dawn Of The World) by Fadhel Abbas sign’s the new phase of the Iraqi film production; it is the first Iraqi feature film after a long period dominated only by shorts and documentaries. The film tells the story of Mastour (Waleed Abou El Magd) and Zahra (Hafsia Herzi), two Iraqi Marsh Arab cousins, whose joyous wedding is followed by the outbreak of the Gulf War.

The Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema features will be shown throughout DIFF 2008, which will run from December 11 to 18.

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