10 Arab Films From 2020 You Don't Want To Miss in 2021
By: Areeb Zuaiter/Arab America Contributing Writer
2020 witnessed the birth of Arab films that gained global attention. Despite the health pandemic and the restrictions the world has experienced as a result, filmmakers still insisted on telling their stories. Below are 10 Arab films that found their way internationally and that were celebrated by top tier festivals. While these films have been in festivals in 2020, there is a big chance they’ll start showing up in the video-on-demand market this year.
1. 200 Meters by Ameen Nayfeh
Work and policies lead Mustafa (Ali Sulaiman) and his wife, Salma (Lana Zreik), to reside in two Palestinian villages that are only 200 meters, but a massive separation-wall, away. Against all odds, they do what they can to make their marriage work. One day, Mustafa receives a call from his wife delivering news that every parent dreads. His son is in the hospital due to a detrimental accident. With a recently expired ID, Mustafa’s once 200-meter journey becomes an odyssey.
Among other awards, 200 Meters won the BNL People’s Choice Award at Giornate degli autori – Venice Days, Best Director at Thessaloniki Film Festival, and received three awards at El Gouna Film Festival.
2. An Unusual Summer by Aljafari
Filmmaker Kamal Aljafari revisits old surveillance videos taken from a security camera. Kamal’s father installed that camera back in the day to find out who has been breaking their car’s window. Shot from the point of view of their house, the film captures fleeting moments of poetry. The daily choreography of El Ramle comes to the surface through everyday life and sarcastic inter-titles that alternate the neighborhood’s reflections.
An Unusual Summer was in the official selection of Viennale and Visions du Réel Among other festivals.
3. Broken Keys by Jimmy Keyrouz
Karim (Tarek Yaacoub) is a pianist. Nonetheless, he lives in a Middle-Eastern war-torn city where modern ways of living have been banned by an extremist group. His dream to flee and build a career in Europe is expensive. He decides to sell his piano. But things entangle when his piano gets destroyed by a leader of the Islamic State. Karim embarks on a difficult journey to repair his broken keys.
Broken Keys was in the official competition of Cannes Film Festival 2020.
4. Gaza Mon Amour by Tarazan and Arab Nasser
Issa (Salim Daw) is a sixty-year-old fisherman whose secret love for Siham (Hiam Abbas) breaks his solitary routine. Working with her daughter Leila (Maisa Abdel Hadi), Siham manages a dress store at the market. However, things change for Issa when a phallic statue of Apollo falls into his net. As a result, Issa builds enough confidence to approach Siham.
Gaza Mon Amour won the NETPAC Award at Toronto International Film Festival, the Miguel Delibes Award, and the Silver Spike at Valladolid International Film Festival. The film was in the official selection of Chicago International Film Festival, Stockholm Film Festival, Thessaloniki Film Festival, and Venice Film Festival.
5. Honey Cigar by Kamir Aïnouz
Set in the 1990s, Honey Cigar tells the intimate tale of Selma (Zoé Adjani); a French Algerian 17-year-old. Selma strives to come of her own between two distinct countries and cultures; between adolescence and adulthood and between her sexual education and her formal education. When she meets Julien in College, Selma realizes for the first time the impact of patriarchal rules on her intimacy.
Honey Cigar opened the Venice Days (Giornate degli autori) this year; a festival section held in parallel to and in association with Venice Film Festival. In addition, the film was nominated for the New Waves Award at Seville European Film Festival.
6. Nardjes A. by Karim Aïnouz
Against the 5th term presidential candidacy of Bouteflika erupts a pacifist uprising, increasingly swelling into a revolution. The film uses Nardjes, an Algerian activist, to paint a portrait of youth in Algeria. Confident and positive, the youth take to the streets for a democratic future of their country. After all, this is the country that their parents and grandparents once fought for its independence.
Among other acclaimed events, Nardjes A. gained recognition in the following festivals; Berlinale PANORAMAdocuments, Visions du Réel, IDFA — Masters, and Montreal International Documentary Festival.
7. Souad by Ayten Amin
Two sisters live in a small, marginalized city on the Nile Delta. Souad (Bassant Ahmed) falls down an online rabbit hole leading to tragic consequences. Despite the silence that swallows everything and everyone, the younger sister, Rabab (Basmala el Ghaiesh), embarks on a journey in search of answers. The film seeks to present an ultra-realistic cinematic experience revealing the harsh social dynamics’ weaknesses.
Soad was in the official competition of Cannes Film Festival 2020.
8. The Man Who Sold His Skin by Kaouther Ben Hania
Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) flees to Lebanon to escape the Syrian war. Unable to get a visa to go to Europe and join his beloved Abeer (Dea Liane), he stays in Lebanon with no legal status. While in Beirut, he meets and strikes a life-changing deal with, Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw), a famous American Artist. He accepts to have a large Schengen visa, the document he desperately needs to enter Europe, tattooed on his back, thus becoming a human artwork to be exhibited in a Brussels museum.
The Man Who Sold His Skin won the Best Arab Film at El Gouna Film Festival and Best Screenplay at Stockholm Film Festival. The film also received the Edipo Re Inclusion Award, while actor Yahya Mahayni received the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor at the 77th Venice Film Festival.
9. Their Algeria by Lina Soualem
Aïcha and Mabrouk had experienced the chaotic existence of immigrant life when they fled from their hometown in Algeria to Theirs in France. After 62 years of being together, they decide to separate. Lina, their granddaughter and the maker behind the film, takes this as an opportunity to question their long journey of exile, their several partings, and their alienating silence.
Their Algeria won the Best Arab Film at El Gouna Film Festival’s Feature Documentary Competition and the Best First Feature at Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival.
10. Zanka Contact by Ismael El Iraki
Two lost souls from cruel Casablanca share a common history, full of trauma. Snake Lasren (Ahmed Hammoud), a has-been rocker, crosses paths in a car-crash with streetwise amazon prostitute Rajae (Khansa Batma). They ultimately fall for one another. Everything from Larsen’s drugged vision to Rajae’s music-aficionado pimp stands in the way. The answer to their blooming romance that is fraught with difficulties lies in a song they’ve been writing and dreaming together.
Zanka Contact was nominated for Best Film in Venice Horizons Award at Venice Film Festival while Khansa Batma won its Best Actress award.
Areeb Zuaiter is an Arab American filmmaker whose work focuses on art, identity, and social issues. She was nominated for Sony’s Outstanding thesis Award, her debut short won the Jury Prize at the European Film Festival and her latest documentary won multiple international awards. Alongside working on her debut feature documentary and her upcoming short narrative, Zuaiter works as an adjunct professor at American University.
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