Arab Spring reaches the Venice Film Festival

With the Venice International Film Festival starting today, a preview of what's showing.
A scene from the film Tahrir 2011 – The Good, the Bad and the Politician.
A scene from the film Tahrir 2011 – The Good, the Bad and the Politician.

The Arab Spring will be represented in several films at the 68th Venice Film Festival, which opens today, as filmmakers try to get to grips with the changes in the Middle East that have occurred over the past year. The dramatic events have caused filmmakers to come together and pull their resources to create films that try to capture the mood of the times.

As the world awaits news on the outcome of political upheavals in Syria, Venice - with remarkable timeliness - will devote several hours to the conflicts that have taken place across the region.

There will be two collective Syrian films from Abounaddara Films, an independent film production company based in Damascus and specialising in documentaries. Their first film, Vanguards, details how all Syrian children must attend the "Vanguard of the Baath" organisation, created in 1974 to raise awareness and solidarity with the ruling party. The Baath party is based on the North Korean model, and the aim was to assure the submission of new generations to the Assad regime. The second film, The End, is a three-and-a-half-hour movie celebrating those youth currently rebelling against the idea of the "eternal president".

Keeping to a similar theme is the short film Hadinat Al Shams (The Sun Incubator) by Syrian director Ammar Al Beik. The story starts on February 4 of this year, with a family getting ready to demonstrate with crowds trying to bring down the Mubarak regime in Egypt. A few months later on May 27, Syrian Hamza Al Khateeb is shot and tortured, inducing ordinary Syrians to take to the streets.

The Egyptian revolution is the focal point of Tahrir 2011 - The Good, the Bad and the Politician: three short films directed by three different filmmakers, Tamer Ezzat, Ayten Amin and Amr Salama. Examining the 18 days after January 25, when Egyptians worked to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, each filmmaker takes us on a personal journey through the revolution. Ezzat, with contributions by Ahmed Abdalla, looks at the characters trying to inspire change. Amin shows how she confronted security forces for the first time in her life. And Salama interviews prominent personalities and politicians both for and against the deposed Egyptian leader.

Conflict is also a theme of Habibi, the debut narrative feature from Susan Youssef. The full Arabic title Habibi Rasak Kharban translates as "darling, your head is out of order", which seems a fairly apt description of the film, which is set in the West Bank and Gaza in 2001. It's a modern retelling of the classic Layla and Majnun romance, about tradition and forbidden love.

Youssef was an academic and journalist in Beirut and Texas before turning her hand to filmmaking. After five critically acclaimed short films there is much buzz about her feature film debut.

One of the most popular films was Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's adaptation of their own graphic novel Persepolis. The animators return with their first live action film, Chicken with Plums, and once again the events take place in Tehran. It's 1958 and the celebrated violin player Nasser Ali Khan is devastated when his instrument breaks. Unable to find a replacement, he slips into depression and begins to reminisce about his youth. The stellar line up includes Mathieu Amalric, Jamel Debbouze and Golshifteh Farahani.

Rachid Debbouze stars in La Désintégration by Philipe Faucon. It's the latest attempt by a filmmaker to analyse the reasons why young Muslims in the West want to sacrifice their lives and jobs for the idea of martyrdom. It's set in France, and Faucon promised to go beyond the stereotypes and clichés that have developed in western media.

Indian cinema is represented with three films that look at the effects that modernisation and the pursuit of wealth have on family and culture. One of the most poignant screenings will be Duvidha, which was director Mani Kaul's last film before his recent death at age 67. Based on the short story by Vijay Dan Detha, it's the tale of how money and greed can make us blind to the greater pleasures in life, and how modern life has seemingly made traditions and myths needless.

Alms of the Blind Horse by Gurvinder Singh is set in Punjab. A family wakes up to discover that a house on the outskirts of town has been demolished and the father joins a protest on the same day that his son is on a union strike in the city. The film unravels the relationship between workers and their employers as tensions rise in the city.

One of the most bizarre sounding films is Sonchidi by Amit Dutta. It's about two travellers in search of a flying machine that will help them escape from the cycle of constant births and deaths.

Films about cinema always play well at festivals and Cut by leading new Iranian cinema director Amir Naderi sounds intriguing. The director of The Runner has been living in the US, but Cut is set in Japan and is rumoured to feature impressive fight scenes.

Published: August 31, 2011 04:00 AM


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