There is always a market for a simple, cheesy romance film, but what about the ones that bend the rules a little? Films that mix romance with comedy, tragedy, or even something sinister. In the Middle East, we are blazing the trail for romance films that blur the lines between genres, creating romantic movies that speak to us on a deeper level. These are some of the most striking Middle Eastern love stories captured on film.
Whilst the love story is, of course, the driving force behind Casablanca, this film also entices another sort of viewer: fans of the casino. The scene where the main protagonist tells a struggling young couple to put their chips on 22 at the roulette wheel cements this film as one of the most popular gambling movies of all time. Of course, a casino setting brings with it a sense of excitement, which only helps to heighten the tumultuous relationship between Rick and Ilsa. Ilsa and her current husband are struggling, so Rick, her ex-lover, offers to help them. The offer is gratefully received and though the marriage between Ilsa and her current husband seems happy, her feelings for Rick begin to resurface during the time that they spend together. This film helps us to inspect our own feelings around morality and fidelity, whether it is possible to love more than one person and if it is possible to give selflessly. Considering the film is from the early half of the 20th century, these are topics that were hard to talk about at the time.
Barakah Meets Barakah
This Saudi Arabian love story follows a civil servant and a blogger as they navigate their relationship in a confusing modern landscape. Having to adhere to strict Saudi conventions whilst being exposed to debauched goings-on via the medium of the internet, the pair become confused about the morality of simple acts. If you’re after a more light-hearted look at law, morality, and love then Barakah Meets Barakah tackles all of these difficult subjects in a playful and oftentimes hilarious way.
The Tambour of Retribution
This film was hotly anticipated at the Cairo International Film Festival and has already garnered several awards, including the Horizons of New Arab Cinema Award for Best Acting Performance and the Salah Abu Seif Award for Best Artistic Contribution. Whilst its accolades are impressive, its storytelling is even more incredible. The story is, on the surface, quite a traditional tale of forbidden love. The son of a swordsman falls in love with the daughter of a tambourine player. One’s whole life revolves around the execution of criminals, whilst the other’s revolves around the celebration of love. The two opposing life views come together in a beautiful way, but the intricacies of right and wrong threaten to break the romance. Family ties become difficult to sever despite wrongdoings and the young couple is forced to grapple with the grey areas in life.
This Israeli film was an award winner at the Sundance Film Festival. Like The Tambour of Retribution, it too dives into the world of forbidden love, but through the medium of two strong female leads. The elder of the two is the mother, who at the beginning of the film can be seen struggling to cope with her husband marrying a second, very young, wife. The younger of the two is daughter Jalila who is struggling to come to terms with life in a man’s world, whilst simultaneously engaging in a forbidden relationship. This film captures the dynamics of traditional and archaic relationships, as well as those that are considered taboo in a thoughtful yet challenging way.