Top Arab Films To Check Out At The 79th Venice Film Festival

Considered one of the most prestigious ceremonies that honors and celebrates the world of cinema, the Venice International Film Festival is back again for its 79th edition. As always, this year brings together an International blend of talent from all across the globe. The festival will include screenings that began on August 31 and will continue on until September 10.

This year, the lineup for films from around the Middle East is quite special, exploring themes such as patriotism, war, and morality using avant-garde techniques to shake up the current discourse. To celebrate the advancement of Arab voices in International cinema, we have curated a collection of Arab films to check out at the renowned film festival.

For My Country (Algeria)

Screening Dates: September 3 and 4

Algerian Rachid Hami’s second feature family drama takes inspiration from his own life. In 2012, he faced a personal tragedy that played a role in bringing this film to life. The story follows Aissa, an Algerian officer who dies during his initiation ritual at the French Saint Cyr Military Academy. The military, however, wants nothing to do with the funeral, refusing to bury Aissa on military soil, an adamant act of discrimination despite their evident role in his death. Aissa’s family especially his brother, take it upon themselves to fight back and bring justice for Aissa.

Nezouh (Syria)

Screening Dates: September 3 and 4

This is not Syrian director Soudade Kaadan’s first experience at Venice Film Festival. Her film “The Day I Lost My Shadow” made its debut at the festival’s 75th edition to great critical acclaim. Her new war drama film “Nezouh” promises not to disappoint.

It places a lens on war-torn Damascus as houses get struck by continuous streams of deadly missiles. One of the houses is of 14-year-old Zeina, whose ceiling gets destroyed by a recent missile attack, giving her an opportunity to make friends with her neighbor. It was a moment that gave her a true taste of freedom. Yet, her happiness is short-lived as she sees her father devastated over the destruction of their house, covering every opening with bed sheets, and transforming their dwelling into a disheveled tent. Everyone around Zeina decides to flee Damascus except for her father. It’s a story of a girl who has to decide between freedom or sticking to one’s roots.

Hanging Gardens (Iraq)

Screening Dates: September 9 and 10

Probably the most experimental and equally controversial film in the Arab lineup, Ahmed Al-Daradji’s drama takes us to the garbage dumps of Baghdad ironically dubbed “the Hanging Gardens”, where a 10-year-old rubbish picker known as As’ad and his older brother, Taha, would forage for scraps to later sell and earn a living. One day, during his search, As’ad stumbles upon a leg jutting out of the masses of rubbish. Pulling it out, he discovers that it’s an American sex doll, one that can also move and speak. The discovery of this doll within the community places As’ad as the victim of a tug-of-war. From one side, he is encouraged by his friend to exploit the sex doll as an entertaining seducer for local teens. From another end, the local patriarch wants to remove this addition to his community. Yet, As’ad defies both forces and takes matters into his own hands, taking in the sex doll, humanizing her, and naming her Salwah.

Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous (Lebanon)

Screening Date: September 7

A refreshing re-take of the classic cinematic trope of forbidden love is Wissam Charaf’s newest addition to the world of cinema. The drama chronicles the tale of a Syrian refugee, Ahmed, whose body is scarred by a bomb blast shrapnel. On his journey, this soon-to-be conflicted protagonist finds a new home in Beirut. Yet, an unexpected love story with an Ethiopian housemaid by the name of Mehdia awaits.

Their love pacifies the struggle each one faces with Mehdia having to face a complex array of people, from her strict employer Madame Leila to Leila’s dementia-stricken husband. While Ahmed has to face a heavier challenge, his body’s literal slow transformation into one of metal. The two decide to flee as Ahmed’s health only continues to deteriorate.

Queens (Morocco)

Screening Dates: September 9 and 10

Moroccan Yasmine Benkiran brings three daring women to the forefront of her first feature drama film. The film takes viewers on a very long journey with the female trio as they travel through the expansive red terrain of the Atlas mountains of Morocco in an attempt to escape the police.

The characters deal with complex dilemmas including the young character Asma, who is wedged between having to conform to society’s ideals versus following her own path and voice, knowing that it may put her at risk of being deemed a social disgrace by her community. It is a common struggle of many of the characters represented in this year’s Venice Film Festival line up.

My Girlfriend (Egypt)

Screening Dates: September 9 and 10

A play on gender roles, Kawthar Younis’ 16-minute short drama film explores the unique relationship between Ali and his girlfriend. Craving new ways to achieve intimacy, the couple undertakes a different trajectory by turning the tables when it comes to gender expression. The film’s Avante-Garde approach is what made it a very suitable candidate for the festival’s category “Orizzonti Cortometraggi Concorso” which focuses on short films that are expressive of the latest aesthetic trends.

To check out any of these eclectic selections of films, you can buy tickets through this link.

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