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Entries in Middle Eastern Films (29)

Friday
Jul172015

Omar Sharif in Egypt

Having already honored Omar Sharif's passing through a Hollywood lens, please welcome new contributor Murtada Elfadl with a look at Sharif's relationship to Egyptian cinema and his leading lady there - Editor.

 

Faten and Omar in 1955The first thought I had when I heard of Omar Sharif’s passing last week was “Oh, he’s joining Faten!”. Faten Hamama was arguably the biggest female movie star in the Arab World and enjoyed a 50+ year career. She was also Sharif’s leading lady in the 1950s and 1960s. It was through the prism of his relationship with Hamama that I came to know and love Sharif. By the time I was growing up in Sudan in the 1980s her output had shrunk to only a movie every few years but at our house we spent many a night watching her old movies on TV. And watching Faten meant watching Omar.

Sharif’s relationship with Hamama defined his early roles. He was plucked from obscurity and chosen to star with her - the biggest Arab movie star and #1 box office draw - in 1954’s Struggle in the Valley. Their chemistry was combustible on and off screen. It was quite a scandal of the time as Hamama was a married woman and it was the 1950s in a conservative Eastern society. They were of different religions, she’s Muslim, he was Christian. Their love affair had all the ingredients of a soap opera. She got divorced! He converted!  They were the Taylor / Burton of Egypt or the Angelina / Brad of the 1950s Middle East. It speaks to their popularity that they were not shunned by the public and the industry a la Ingrid Bergman whose own love affair / scandal happened just a few years before theirs. [More...]

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Friday
Jul102015

Omar Sharif (1932-2015)

Sharif Photographed by Andrew Walker in 2011Hollywood's first and still only Egyptian movie star passed away at 83 today of a heart attack. It had recently been announced that he was suffering from Alzheimers and after such a full life this may feel like a mercy to some, though his loved one are surely grieving and our hearts go out to them.

Though moviegoers roughly 35 and up surely remember him, here's the gist of it for younger budding cinephiles: Sharif began and ended his career in Arabic language cinema but in the vast middle (1960s-1990s) he achieved global stardom via Hollywood and British cinema. His English language debut Lawrence of Arabia (1962) brought him a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and he became a genuine superstar in short order, headlining one of the all time biggest box office smashes (Doctor Zhivago, 1965). In his third enduring classic from that decade he helped Barbra Streisand ascend into the pantheon in her film debut Funny Girl (1968). 

In fact, his performances in those three hits are rather fine illustrations of what was so special about his onscreen persona: his generosity and a certain intangible 'eye of the beholder' transference. He was one of the greatest romantic leading men precisely because he seemed so believably in thrall to the particular charismas of his co-stars. And he had great ones: Sophia Loren, Barbra Streisand, Julie Christie, Peter O'Toole, Julie Andrews and more. 

And while he drank in their inimitable beauty, he looked like this:

Dr Zhivago (1965)a portrait from the 1950s when he starred regularly in Egyptian cinema
The Tamarind Seed (1974) and More Than a Miracle (1967)

Double the pleasure, then, for moviegoers who were ready to swoon. And swoon they did, all over the world. 

What's your favorite Omar Sharif performance?

 

Monday
Feb162015

Interview: Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz on 'Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem'

Jose here. In Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Israeli goddess Ronit Elkabetz returns to play a part she’s lived with for more than a decade. In 2004, Ronit and her brother Shlomi teamed up as writers and co-directors of a film trilogy that would concentrate on the experiences of a woman as seen through the roles society imposed on her. In the first installment, To Take a Wife, Viviane must deal with being trapped in a loveless marriage to her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian), in 7 Days, Viviane must sit Shiva and come to terms with the fact that she is obligated to mourn despite not feeling pain. In Gett, which opened this weekend on the heels of its Golden Globe Foreign Film nomination (Oscar passed it by), Viviane is trying to gain her freedom from Elisha, but finds that practically impossible given that her husband hasn’t committed any “sins” against her; her request is deemed invalid by the strict rabbinical court.

In the years since her breakthrough in Late Marriage (2001), also an Israeli Oscar submission, and the first Viviane installment, Ronit has become the face of Israeli cinema having delivered brilliant performances in films like The Band’s Visit and Or. Gett also reveals her growth behind the camera with a much more sophisticated directorial technique, as she and Shlomi tell the story from a very subjective point of view. With their use of the camera and precise shots, they allow Viviane to have the freedom of thought society continues to deny her. A perfectly cast ensemble makes the film a worthy spiritual companion to A Separation and Zodiac, in a way, as they all explore the frustration that comes along with endless, inefficient bureaucratic processes.

During their recent visit to New York City, I talked to Ronit and Shlomi about their collaborations, their unique use of cinematic language and how Gett has rightfully become a sociopolitical sensation in Israel.

The interview is after the jump...    

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Tuesday
Nov182014

Foreign Oscar Watch: Iran's "Today"

[This post is part of our continuing series on this year’s contenders for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. We're aiming to review (gasp) half of them. Here’s Amir with the Iranian entry, Today. He has also interviewed the director and discussed the film on his Iranian cinema podcast "Hello Cinema". - Editor]

Reza Mirkarimi is probably overdue for an Oscar nomination. Sure, his name doesn’t ring a bell for a lot of cinephiles and doesn’t carry the same weight as internationally renowned Iranian auteurs such as Kiarostami, Panahi or Asghar Farhadi, but consider this: He is the only filmmaker to have had his films shunned by both the Academy and the Iranian committee that submits them!

His first try for gold came back in 2005 with So Close, So Far, a meditative and moving portrayal of a broken father-son relationship. It was far stronger than all five of the eventual nominees but that was before voters in this category had begun to vote for what is actually best. Still, he had every reason to be hopeful in 2012 with A Cube of Sugar, a distinctly Iranian film with a regional flavor that surprisingly won awards at every festival it played at. Coming on the back of A Separation’s win, it was reasonable to expect the raised profile of Iranian cinema to help the film along the finish line. Yet, the Iranian committee submitted the film and boycotted the Oscars later on the same day! Remember that strange story?

So, two years on, Mirkarimi is back with Today, a consensus option that wasn’t exceptionally well received in its home country, but saved the committee a whole lot of political trouble compared to their other choices...

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Thursday
Oct162014

CIFF Foreign Film Oscar Report, Vol. 1: Afghanistan, Italy & Switzerland

Tim here. A week ago today, two things happened: the Academy announced the complete list of submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film race, and the 50th Chicago International Film Festival opened. That's put me in a position to see a lot of those submissions firsthand, and this week and next I'll be sharing my quick thoughts on several of the ones that the Film Experience hasn't otherwise looked at.

AFGHANISTAN: A FEW CUBIC METERS OF LOVE
In a grubby part of Tehran, a population of Afghan refugees ekes out a small living and strives to retain their culture and sense of worth while dodging the police. Against this background, a young Afghan woman (Hasiba Ebrahimi) and an Iranian boy (Saed Soheili) fall in love, only to find their relationship threatened when her father decides to flee Iran. So it's yet another Romeo & Juliet riff, although in this case the unexpected context gives it some freshness, and the film does good work balancing its depiction of the hard life of the refugees in an unfriendly place with the romantic plot. Ebrahimi and Soheili also have excellent, unforced chemistry with each other, making for an especially appealing representation of a stock scenario. It's a little minor and not too daring, but it's awfully moving.

Oscar prospects: Stranger things have happened, though central Asia hasn't done all that well here over the years, and the realist style is a little on the chilly side. I suspect it would have to be one of the films swept in by executive decision, and there are bigger-name titles that are much likelier to receive that boost.

Israeli divorce, Italian essay, and Swiss gays after the jump...

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Tuesday
Sep162014

Amir Sat on a Branch Reflecting on TIFF

Amir here, looking back at the Toronto Film Festival that recently wrapped up.

"Girlhood," superior to Boyhood and one of the best of TIFF 14

You may have noticed that after a few years of covering the festival to various degrees for The Film Experience, I was completely absent from this space for the past ten days, mostly because of a personal decision to enjoy the films without sweating over writing. TIFF is a big festival, maybe the most frantic and hectic in the world, with more choices than one can physically experience over ten days. Nathaniel and I shared so few films from the program’s sprawling lineup, we could have each written about every single thing we saw and you’d never know we attended the same festival. It’s this overwhelming scale that made me want to take a break from reporting, and yet, I feel unsure about how that affected my festival experience.

Writing about films for me is a passion born out of the necessity to articulate my thoughts on the things I watch. Maybe that process of writing makes the films more memorable? Isn’t it so that writing, even about bad films, makes us appreciate good cinema all the more? Without recording my memories, details about this year’s films have fled my mind quicker than ever. My feelings about some of them have been diluted a bit, too. There is something missing, even though I had the best festival experience of my life, meeting more people than ever and watching some terrific films. Maybe this pessimism is just a withdrawal symptom. Let’s stay positive!

As has become something of an unplanned tradition for me – with precedents including Oslo, August 31st and Closed Curtain – my favorite film of the festival came my way on the last day.

MORE...

"The Look of Silence" will be in theaters next summer

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Tuesday
Aug122014

Foreign Film Oscar Watch: The Ophir Nominations

Israeli's Oscar equivalent, The Ophirs, announced their nominations yesterday and here are the Best Picture nominees, courtesy of friend of TFE Yonatan. One of these six films will surely be submitted as their Oscar hopeful.

Dana Ivgy & Nelly Tagar star in "Zero Motivation"

The Farewell Party - Dramedy set in a retirement home and it's the nomination leader with 14
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Absalem - Drama about a woman struggling legally to get a divorce. This is the film we were talking about a couple of days ago when the foreign charts went up. It's co-directed by and stars the great Ronit Elkabetz (Late Marriage). It won 12 nominations. Music Box films (who had such a huge success with Poland's Oscar submission Ida this summer) have the distribution rights but no US release date has been announced.
Is That You? - A film projectionist searches for the love of his youth after losing his job
Next To Her - 9 nods for this  drama about two sisters, one of them is mentally challenged
Yona - Biographical Drama about a famous Israeli poet. 9 nominations. The director Nir Bergman is the only one from this group who has previously been selected for Oscar submission (Broken Wings in 2002)
Zero Motivation - This debut feature from director Tayla Lavie was the winner of the Tribeca Film Festival this year and is nominated for 12 Ophirs. Zeitgeist has distribution rights in the US and is planning a December release. It's a military comedy about female soldiers starring Dana Igvy who is nominated for Best Actress AND Supporting Actress as she's also in Next to Her. Someone's having a good year

Dana Ivgy & from "Next to Her" at Cannes. Photograph by Cécile BurbanWhich do you think they'll choose for their Oscar submission? Have any of you Israeli and/or international festival-going readers caught any of these films? Israel's last two submissions Fill the Void and Bethlehem missed nominations and even the January finalist list (kind of a surprise with the former) but the Academy's mostly been very receptive to Israeli film in recent years with nominations in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011 so watch their submission closely!

Oscar Charts