Some great films to watch to learn about the Arab world
By Louissa Taha Abdelghany
Everyone loves to go to the movies. But, while watching films is mainly entertaining, it is also an ideal way for understanding the culture of other countries and for accepting the ways of life of other people and communities.
The Arab World is a region that is only united by its name and designation as “Arab World”. This expression masks the fact that Arab people are not homogeneous and that the Arab region is extremely diverse and constantly changing. The 22 countries include more than 22 Arabic dialects and a wide and extensive culture. The feature movies presented in this article open a small window on this diverse and vast region. They offer a glance at its history, background, customs, traditions, as well as its religious, political, and social issues.
Amreeka portrays the story of Muna, a divorced Palestinian woman who decides to leave the humiliating life in her occupied homeland of Palestine, and immigrate with her 13-year-old son Fadi to the United States after winning a green card by lottery. The movie is set in 2003 at the start of the American invasion of Iraq. With wit and humor, the director Cherine Dabis depicts the problems of persecution and ostracism Muna and her son face while they are trying to settle and be successful in their new adoptive country. Muna’s positive outlook on life makes the movie enjoyable and inspiring.
Caramel is a humoristic film that follows the lives of five Lebanese single women, Layale, Nisrine, Rima, Rose and Lili, each with a different age and background. Despite the various social issues these women confront, the sisterhood and camaraderie they have bring them close together in the confined place of the beauty salon where they meet regularly to talk and confide in each other. This movie is set in the middle of the busy Lebanese capital Beirut. The director Nadine Labaki, who also acted in the movie and collaborated in writing its screenplay, brought to light intimate conversations that revolve around taboo topics like sex outside marriage, virginity, and homosexuality.
The Syrian Bride is set in Majdal Shams, a Druze village located in the Syrian Golan Heights, a region annexed by Israel since 1981, and cut off from the rest of the country. This movie depicts the Salmans family while escorting their daughter dressed in her wedding gown to the boarder of Syria. The bride-to-be is about to get married to a Syrian television star and once she crosses the border she can never return to see her family. Grim, sad and distressing, the movie raises serious questions like occupation, impenetrable borders, walls and forced separation.
From Saudi Arabia:
Wadjda is the first feature film ever directed by a Saudi woman. The director Haifa Al Mansour follows the story of a rebellious Saudi 13-year-old girl named Wadjda who discovers the limitations placed on women in the name of custom and religion in Saudi Arabia. Her rebellion against society is shown through the way she dresses and acts around her friends, and by dreaming to own a bike. Wadjda is determined to ride a bike despite the fact that it is something unacceptable for girls in Saudi Arabia. She decides to enter a Koran recitation contest to win the money she needs and accomplish her dream. While the movie shows the harsh reality Saudi Women have within their society, it also highlights the fact that change is possible.
Hassan wa Morcus is a controversial movie that came out in 2008 when tension between Muslims and Copts reached its peak in Egypt. The movie addresses issues of intolerance, sectarian violence and religious extremism, and brings out topics rarely discussed in public in Egypt. Despite the gravity and seriousness of these topics, the movie is largely a comedy that ends on a positive note and conveys the strong message of coexistence and acceptance of others.
The Man from Oran is a drama about Algerian independence, seen through the relationship of two men, Djaffar, a modest idealist, and Hamid, a skilled businessman. The movie raises questions about colonization, revolution and independence, and demonstrates how revolution can be hijacked and sold for power and money.
Horses of God is a drama about the 2003 Casablanca bombings. Directed by the famous Nabil Ayoush, the movie contemplates the roots of Islamic terrorism, and shows how poverty and hopelessness can lead to acts of terrorism. It follows the lives and destiny of a number of boys stuck in Sidi Moumen, a poor town located on the outskirts of Casablanca. Their fate to embrace terrorism becomes inevitable and frighteningly comprehensible.
From the Levant, to the Gulf, to North Africa, this is merely a small échantillon of Arab films representative of a diverse region filled with history, culture and turmoil