Which Arab Films have been Submitted to the Oscars this Year?
By: Pamela Dimitrova/Arab America Contributing Writer
In the past years, it was a rarity to see an Arab movie submission to the Academy Awards. However, in recent times, more regional movies are submitted than ever before. The Arab region’s cinema is flourishing and more and more directors take the ‘wave’, producing a number of Arab films annually. This year, four Arab films have already been officially submitted to the academy. They are now in line to be considered as possible forerunners in the Best International Feature Film category at Oscar’s 92nd award ceremony which is set to be held on Feb. 9, 2020.
1. Adam (Morocco)
The movie follows the somewhat fortuitous encounter between two women in the medina (city) of Casablanca. The kind of unexpected encounter, like destiny, can change the course of someone’s life. The movie, Adam is about Samia, a single, pregnant mother who comes from the countryside to give her child up for adoption. She is welcomed in the home of a young widow, Abla, struggling to make ends meet with her 8-year-old daughter, having lost the taste of life since the death of her husband. Together, the two women make a genuine inner journey of rebuilding, by moving towards each other.
Maryam Touzani explained that the story was inspired by her own personal experience and revolves around issues of female identity in contemporary Morocco, where women are torn between traditional values of motherhood and the desire for independence.
The film received a standing ovation on its world premiere at Cannes and won an audience award at the Angouleme French Film Festival in August. This is the first time a movie from a Woman Director has been chosen to represent the country at the Academy Awards.
2. Poisonous Roses (Egypt)
Based on Ahmed Zaghloul Al-Sheety’s 1990 novel, Poisonous Roses for Saqr, the film is centered on two siblings, Tahya and Saqr, who live with their mother in Cairo’s environmentally unsafe and impoverished. The plot revolves around Saqr who dreams of escaping the life he lives but is tied up to his job and the place due to his love for his sister.
Al-Sheety is an Egyptian screenwriter known for producing a documentary in 2010 called, Living Skin. The documentary also showcased a similar concept of people working and living in Cairo’s tannery district, which ended up winning several awards at international film festivals.
Having premiered at the 2018 Rotterdam Film Festival, the film has gone on to be shown in over 20 festivals worldwide, and has picked up several awards, including Best Foreign Film from the Diorama International Film Festival in India and three awards at Cairo International Film Festival: Best Arab Film, the Horizons of Arab Cinema Competition, and the United Nations Population Fund award.
3. It Must Be Heaven (Palestine)
The satirical-comedy film, which stars the director himself, explores the struggles in Palestine. As Elia Suleiman, from Nazareth (Galilee), travels between France and New York, he witnesses surprising similarities to his hometown. Through his feature, the director aims to put the situation of his birthplace in an international context. In a search for a new home, he realizes Palestine will always be his primary homeland.
Suleiman’s fourth film has been nominated for various festivals around the world. After winning the Jury Special Mention and the Fipresci Critics’ Award at Cannes 2019, the movie will also be showcased at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as a part of the Masters Program.
4. Dear Son (Tunisia)
The movie tells the story of a Tunisian middle-class couple with high hopes for the future of their only son who discovers he’s left to join ISIS in Syria. Riadh and Nazli struggle to make ends meet; Nazli works in another city part-time and Riadh will soon retire from his construction job on the Tunis dock. Family life is modest, reserved, and entirely centered around their only son Sami whose final exams are approaching. He suffers migraines which seem to be intensifying. As they do, Riadh resolves to help his increasingly despondent son. But then Sami disappears, leaving a note stating that he has gone to Syria. The most devastating aspect of this family portrait is its understated perceptiveness. By positioning father and son at opposite ends of their life-journeys, the director underlines the dangerous social limbo and lack of opportunity for Tunisian youth.
Co-produced by Tunisia’s Dora Bouchoucha’s Nomadic Images with Belgium’s Dardennes brothers, “Dear Son” is being well received in Cannes where it premiered in Directors’ Fortnight sealing Ben Attia’s status as a young Arab director with solid chops.