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Best Arab Films of the Year, 2023

posted on: Jan 10, 2024

Hanging Gardens by Ahmed Yassin Aldaradji. Credit: IMDb

By Masha Lukovenko / Arab America Contributing Writer

This past year emerged with fascinating Arab films created by extraordinary filmmakers, showing the diversity and quality of Arab filmmaking. These are the best Arab films of the year, submitted for Oscars and Best International Features. If you are a lover of Arab culture and Arab cinema – or great cinema in general – be sure to take a look at them and enjoy!

Voy! Voy! Voy! by Omar Hilal

One of the most notorious and famous Arab films, recognized internationally this year is Omar Hilal’s Voy! Voy! Voy! Selected by Egypt as its Oscar entry for Best International Feature. This dramedy, directed by Hilal, is based on an incredible true story. It follows Hassan (Mohamed Farag), an impoverished but ambitious young man living in Egypt. He feigns blindness so he can join a visually impaired football team bound to Poland and escape to Europe.

The trailer for it is truly spectacular and Oscar worthy.

Hanging Gardens by Ahmad Yassin Aldaradji

Another great film this year is Hanging Gardens directed by Ahmed Yassin Aldaradji, Iraq. As IMDb describes it: “When a young Iraqi rubbish picker rescues an American sex rubber doll from the Baghdad dumps, he crosses into a perilous red zone, where friends become enemies and nothing is certain in an explosive mix of love, war and madness.” It’a a promising film about absurdities and atrocities of life at the war zone of Al-Daradji home country’s recent past.

Inshallah a Boy by Amjad Al Rasheed

Next on the Oscar list is Inshallah a Boy by Amjad Al Rasheed. As the news outlets describe it, “The film is directed by Amjad Al Rasheed and dives into the nuances of Jordanian family law with a resonant story that begins when mother-of-one Nawal (Mouna Hawa) is suddenly widowed. Under local inheritance rulings, she discovers that her late husband’s wider family are entitled to her property because she previously gave birth to a daughter, not a son. In dire straits, she pretends to be pregnant with a son.” The film tackles the unjust law and justice systems, showing how Arab families struggle and cope with it. It is yet another promising feature, capturing horrific injustices of Jordan and other Arab countries.

Bye Bye Tiberias by Lina Soualem

Another attention deserving feature is “Bye Bye Tiberias” by Lina Soualem, Palestine. As news describe it: “The documentary by Lina Soulalem revolves around four generations of Palestinian women, centred on Soulalem’s mother – the show Succession star Hiam Abbass. Soualem zooms in on Abbass, whose grandparents Umm Ali and Hosni are forcibly displaced from their home in Tiberias in 1948. Generations later, Abbass grows up in Deir Hanna but leaves her village and family behind at a young age to follow her ambition of becoming an actress in Europe. Thirty years later, Soualem returns with Abbass to her native village in the surroundings of Lake Tiberias. Once there, she begins questioning her mother’s bold choices.”

The Mother of All Lies by Asmae El Moudir

The documentary film was directed, written, produced, and edited by Asmae El Moudir. As IMDb describes it: “It follows her exploration into the search for truth regarding her family background, combining personal and national history such as reflecting on the 1981 Bread Riots and drawing conclusions over contemporary Morocco.”

Goodbye Julia by Mohamed Kordofani

As this film critics describe, “The film by Arab Sudanese director Mohamed Kordofani, tells the story of Mona, a singer from north Sudan, overcome with guilt after covering up the murder of a man from the south. Aiming to clear her conscience, she invites the man’s widow, Julia, and her son, Daniel, into her home.” It explores the themes of love, murder and clear conscience and how this family deals and grapples with it, when faced with covering up a murder. 

Four Daughters by Kaouther Ben Hania, Tunisia

Between light and darkness stands Olfa, a Tunisian woman and the mother of four daughters. One day, her two older daughters disappear. Filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania invites professional actresses to fill in their absence. The film is an international co-production between France, Tunisia, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

The film competed for the Palme d’Or at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, where it had its world premiere on 19 May 2023. It was released in France on 5 July 2023. It was selected as the Tunisian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards. The film was one of the 15 finalist films in the December shortlists for Best International Feature and Best Documentary Feature. 

These are the best Arab films of the year, carefully selected and nominated for Oscars by their respective countries. After watching the trailers and endlessly researching these films, I can attest that they are great films that deserve the public attention. Directors conceived and created them in the time of Israeli-Palestine war and war in Ukraine and huge instability in the world and conflict and thus deserve our applause. 

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