JFYI I wrote this review of “Eshtebak” (Clash) for 7iber. (Originally published here on May 6).
In August 2013, Egyptian security forces raided a sit-in camp in Cairo filled with hundreds of protesters supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi. According to Human Rights Watch, the ensuing clashes between the army and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood at Raba’a Square left at least 817 civilians dead.
It’s near-impossible to imagine — let alone depict — the chaos and hatred that must have permeated the air in the weeks that led up to that horrific massacre. And yet, Mohamed Diab, the talented director of “Eshtebak” (“Clash”), somehow manages to do just that, in a superb 97-minute film that’s expertly shot in and from one location: the back of a run-down police van.
It’s taken me some time to get around to reviewing I Say Dust, a short, sweet film directed by the promising Darine Hotait. Partly because, life. But also because, despite the fact that it’s just about a quarter of an hour long, it flirts with vast topics including homosexuality in the Arab diaspora, dual identity, lust and love. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s not the easiest watch as a result. But that’s precisely the point.
Set in New York City, Hal, a broody, big-haired Arab-American poet (played poignantly by Hala Alyan) wanders the streets of Brooklyn to pin up flyers advertising an upcoming reading. She catches the eye of Moun (the stunning Mounia Akl), a bored and beautiful saleswoman at a Chess store.
Every so often, the Academy nominates foreign-language films that put some of the movies listed in the best-picture category to absolute shame. Theeb, directed by newcomer Naji Abu Nowar, is one such example (side note: Timbuktu, of 2015, and Omar, of 2014, are a couple of others).
Set in the the vast Hijaz province of the then Ottoman Empire during World War I, Theeb (Wolf in Arabic) portrays the complexities of colonialism, death, grief, survival, isolation and loyalty through the subtle lens of one curious Bedouin boy.
* With thanks to the Council for Arab-British Understanding for inviting me to their screening of the film at Parliament
A Syrian Love Story is devastating in more ways than one. It tells the tale of a disintegrating marriage in brutally honest terms, against the backdrop of war. It illustrates the psychological effects of that dissolution, and the conflict in Syria, on the couple’s vulnerable children. It raises questions about gender and gender roles without offering conclusions. And it delivers a poignant examination of post-traumatic stress disorder, anger and addiction.
But mostly, A Syrian Love Story is a timely and timeless portrait of just one of millions of refugee families and how war can unrelentingly tear countries and people apart. Views on the refugee crisis currently afflicting Europe and beyond will either be reinforced or challenged by this 80-minute documentary, adding to its relevance and intensity.
Documentary: Trip Along Exodus (2014)
Director/producer/writer: Hind Shoufani
Watching Hind Shoufani’s deeply personal examination of her father Dr. Elias’s life from the comfort of an east London cinema felt a little like I was peering into someone else’s living room. In a series of interviews with his daughter, Dr. Shoufani tells the story of how and why he gave up a cushy career as an academic at Princeton and the University of Maryland as well as a doting Peruvian-American wife at the age of 40 to move back to the Middle East and join the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut in the 1970s.
For two hours on Friday evening, I was utterly engrossed in one intoxicating (/intoxicated) individual: Amy Winehouse. Not by the complexities of the world swirling around her, the stardom she was propelled into, or the people who took advantage of her path to fame. It was all about Amy — extraordinary woman that she was — with her fragility and flaws moving in tandem with her strength and soul.