5 contemporary Arab films you can't miss this summer
Annemarie Jacir’s When I Saw You looks back at the climate of hope surrounding Palestinians in 1967 Jordan. The Six Day War aside, this was a time when Palestinians “felt they had more agency in their lives,” Jacir explains to The Electronic Intifada. It was a time when the overwhelming feeling was that “they could do something” and the future still rested in their hands. That sense of agency and optimism is encapsulated by Tarek, an eleven-year-old boy struggling alongside his mother to adapt to their new life in a Jordanian refugee camp. Fed up with his new “home” and anguished by the absence of his father, Tarek does the only thing that makes sense to him: he leaves. He sets out for home—a city whose lights still shine across the valley—and ends up tagging along with a group of Fedayeen.
Zero – Nour-Eddine Lakhmari, Morocco.
From Morocco, Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s third feature film follows the life of a disillusioned cop struggling to navigate a world of corruption in Casablanca. Amine Bertale, nickname “Zero,” is the quintessential anti-hero: a worn out alcoholic, unhappy in life, unhappy in love, fighting for hope in a world obsessed with money and power. Just when things can’t seem to get any worse for him, he meets Aicha, a woman desperate to find her missing fifteen-year-old daughter. Bertale hesitates to take on the case, fearing he might fail her, but with time, tragedy, and rejection, he gives in to Aicha’s pleas and scours the darkest corners of the city for her lost daughter.
Wadjda, the first full-length feature film ever shot on Saudi Arabian soil (not to mention the first by a female Saudi director), offers a glimpse of what life in Riyadh might be like for the likes of one spirited ten-year-old girl. Wadjda, the title character, is determined to beat her friend Abdullah in a bicycle race. The problem, however, is twofold: girls are expressly forbidden from riding bicycles, and Wadjda can’t come up with the money to buy one. Desperate for a solution, she starts selling bracelets to her classmates in secret. When this fails, she turns to her school’s Qur’an recitation contest instead, lured by the promise of a tidy cash prize for the winner.
Where Do We Go Now? – Nadine Labaki, Lebanon.
Nadine Labaki’s second film after Caramel, Where Do We Go Now? takes on broader themes relating to Lebanese history. More specifically, it grapples with the country’s long history of sectarian violence. The film revolves around the delicate peace achieved between Muslims and Christians in an unnamed village and the efforts (often humorous) of the village’s women to break a seemingly endless cycle of violence and reprisal. In the grand scheme of things, the film is a satire that extends well beyond the Lebanese.
Winter of Discontent – Ibrahim El Batout, Egypt.
Wildly inventive, Winter of Discontent stands at the intersection between fiction and historical artifact. Filmed during the early days of the Egyptian revolution in winter 2011, the film takes you to Tahrir in the midst of real-life protests. The tale it weaves is one of three fictional characters: Amr, an activist; Farah, a journalist; and Adel, a state security officer. Ibrahim El Batout blurs the lines between fiction and reality, skillfully building (and sometimes improvising) the story of a society where, according to the film’s official statement, “love and joy were flouted” in exchange for “fear and corruption.”