Mena film submissions at Oscars 2023 span real-life stories to fictional dramas

From Iraq and Morocco to Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, here are the films in the running for the Best International Feature Academy Award

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As awards season draws near, it’s time to get up to date with some of the films being released from and about the region.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced in May this year that the 95th Academy Awards will be held next March at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. It was also recently announced that late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel will be hosting the star-studded event, one of the biggest nights for films and entertainment.

While the official nominations for all categories will be announced on January 24, here is a round-up of all the films being sent from the Mena region for the Best International Feature category, as well as three movies about the Mena region submitted by other countries.

Our Brothers — Algeria

Directed by Rachid Bouchareb, Our Brothers is set on December 5, 1986, when thousands of students protested for higher education reforms in Paris, France.

When French-Algerian student Abdel Benyahia, 20, is killed by a drunken policeman in a Paris suburb and several hours later, Malik Oussekine is also pursued and beaten to death by three police officers, inspector Daniel Mattei is appointed to investigate as the police force and government collude to cover up the murders.

World War III — Iran

An Iranian thriller drama co-written and directed by Houman Seyyedi, the film follows the story of Shakib, played by Mohsen Tanabandeh, a homeless day labourer.

When the construction site he works on is used as a film set about the atrocities committed by Hitler during the Second World War, Shakib is given the opportunity of a lifetime to star in movie. However, Shakib has to also shield his girlfriend, who is deaf and mute with a secret past, or risk losing his chance at stardom.

The Exam — Iraq

Directed by Shawkat Amin Korki, this film centres around Rojin, a young Kurdish-Iraqi woman as she prepares to take a university entrance exam. Her father has decided that if she fails to gain entry into university, she will be forced into an arranged marriage.

Rojin's older sister Shilan, who is unhappily married, plans to help her sister pass at any cost in the hopes that she is given more opportunities and freedom in life not afforded to her.

The sisters’ joint mission draws them into a web of corruption that connects all parts of the society they live in.

Cinema Sabaya — Israel

Directed by Orit Fouks Rotem, this film follows nine Arab and Jewish women who are taking part in a video workshop hosted by young director Rona, who teaches them how to document their lives on film.

As each of the women share raw homemade footage with the rest of the class, the group, who come from different backgrounds and classes, are forced to challenge their values, views and beliefs.

The glimpses into each other’s lives and the conversations that ensue from their footage, help them see each other, and themselves, in a different light.

Farha — Jordan

Directed by Darin J Sallam and based on true events in 1948 in Palestine, this drama follows Farha, 14, who has an affinity for books and yearns to be educated. She undergoes a life-altering experience when her father locks her in a pantry as catastrophe consumes her home and village during the Nakba.

Farha is forced to watch from her hiding place as her dreams of education quickly change to those of survival.

Memory Box — Lebanon

Directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Memory Box, is about Maia, a single mother who lives in Montreal with her teenage daughter, Alex.

When an unexpected delivery containing notebooks, tapes and photos are sent to Maia from her best friend from 1980s Beirut, she refuses to sort through them and confront her past. But Alex secretly goes through the contents and delves into her mother’s tumultuous and passionate past during the Lebanese Civil War.

The Blue Caftan — Morocco

The Blue Caftan, directed by Maryam Touzani, is the story of a middle-aged tailor and his wife who run a traditional kaftan store in one of Morocco’s oldest cities. However, their relationship and life is turned upside down and re-examined with the arrival of a handsome new apprentice.

Mediterranean Fever — Palestine

Set in Haifa, Palestine, Mediterranean Fever is the story of Waleed, a man suffering from chronic depression after his dreams of being a writer don’t materialise. Waleed then befriends his neighbour, a petty criminal with a sinister ulterior motive. As their friendship develops, the unlikely friends find themselves on a journey full of dark encounters.

Raven Song — Saudi Arabia

Filmed in Riyadh and directed by Mohamed Al Salman, Raven Song is a coming-of-age comedy about a young man, Nasser, who is diagnosed with a brain tumour. Soon after being told he must undergo a risky operation, he briefly meets and becomes infatuated with a mystery woman. Nasser's best friend dares him to find a way to reach and connect with the woman before his operation by singing her a love poem.

Under the Fig Trees — Tunisia

Focusing on the lives of young rural women and men working the Tunisian summer fig harvest, director Erige Sehiri documents the growing pains of adolescence as the characters develop new feelings and try to understand love.

Holy Spider — Denmark

For its submission to the Best International Feature category, Denmark has chosen the Iran-set thriller Holy Spider directed by Ali Abbasi.

The film follows a journalist who finds herself in the very dark underbelly of Mashhad, the Iranian holy city, to investigate the serial killings of women by the "Spider Killer", who is on a mission to cleanse the streets of sinners.

Boy from Heaven Sweden

Egyptian-Swedish director Tarik Saleh’s film follows the story of Adam, the son of a fisherman, who accepts an offer to study at the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.

However, shortly after his arrival, the grand imam of Al-Azhar suddenly dies. Soon, a politically-infused power struggle ensues with Adam at the centre of this ruthless game.

Winners — UK

British-Iranian filmmaker Hassan Nazer’s film follows the story of two children, Yahya and Leyla, as they set off on a high-risk adventure. The story, written by Nazer is set in a poor provincial Iranian village where the children work hard to support their families.

One day, the two friends find a precious statuette in the desert. As the authorities search for the lost treasure, Yahya’s boss Nasser, who has a great passion for cinema, decides to help the children find the owner of the precious statue.

The 95th Academy Awards will take place on March 12.

Updated: May 11, 2023, 6:10 AM