Thirteen films from the Mena region showing at Cannes 2024

A Saudi director’s debut and the story of Donald Trump’s early years are among the works being screened by Arab creators at the festival

Nisrin Erradi, right, and Joud Chamihy in Everybody Loves Touda by Nabil Ayouch. Photo: Nabil Ayouch
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Returning this week, Cannes Film Festival will screen new works from renowned filmmakers, including those from the Middle East and North Africa.

These include Megalopolis by Francis Ford Coppola starring Adam Driver, George Miller’s Furiosa starring Anya Taylor-Joy and the first instalment of Kevin Costner’s anticipated Western epic Horizon, an American Saga.

George Lucas will receive the Honorary Palme d’Or award at the closing ceremony for his contribution to cinema, while Barbie writer and director Greta Gerwig will preside over the jury. In addition to these titles, several movies by Arab and regional filmmakers will be showcased at the festival.

There are also several related, but unofficial, film initiatives happening in parallel to Cannes that are showcasing Arab stories. Critics' Week, for example, is joined by Directors Fortnight, which focuses on independent films from around the world.

The Palestine Film Institute is teaming up with Cannes Docs to screen four documentaries during the March́e du Film market running from Friday to Sunday, though these are unfinished works.

Here are some of the Mena works that will be screened.

Motel Destino

Algerian-Brazilian director Karim Ainouz whose psychological thriller Firebrand starring Alicia Vikander and Jude Law officially made its premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, will be showcasing another film this year.

Playing in the competition section of the festival, Motel Destino is the director’s eighth fiction film and has been described as an “intimate picture of a youth whose future has been stolen by a toxic and oppressive elite”.

The erotic thriller is also a love story between a young man who is actively fighting against a system that oppresses him and wants him dead and a woman who is fighting patriarchy in her own world.

The Apprentice

Also playing in the competition section is Iranian-Dutch director Ali Abbasi’s film The Apprentice.

The biographical drama explores the early years of Donald Trump's life as a real estate businessman in New York in the 1970s and 80s. The story’s main plot will focus on the relationship between Trump and his mentor Roy Cohn. The film is expected to explore themes such as power and corruption.

With Abbasi as director, the film was written by Gabriel Sherman and stars Sebastian Stan as Trump, Jeremy Strong as Cohn and Maria Bakalova as Ivana Trump.

Everybody Loves Touda

Screening in the Cannes Premier section of the festival, Everybody Loves Touda by French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch is the story of a young singer and poet named Shaeirat, raising her deaf-mute son in a small village. While she performs in bars under the gaze of men, Shaeirat plans to head to Casablanca to gain fame, better opportunities and a more secure future for her son.

However, things aren’t as easy as she believed they would be in Casablanca, and she must navigate through challenges that will test her strength and determination.

Everybody Loves Touda was co-written by Ayouch and his wife Maryam Touzani, the actor-turned-filmmaker. The couple also co-wrote the film The Blue Kaftan, directed by Touzani and produced by Ayouch.

To a Land Unknown

Two Palestinian cousins find themselves stranded in Athens after fleeing a refugee camp in Lebanon. To a Land Unknown, directed by Palestinian-Danish director Mahdi Fleifel, has a powerful premise that follows the pair living in limbo as they attempt to find a way to reach Germany.

Fleifel reportedly directed To a Land Unknown with the same pace of an edgy thriller, while maintaining the emotional integrity of the character’s story as he sheds a light on the nuanced living conditions of migrants.

Norah

Saudi director Tawfik Alzaidi’s debut will be screened in Un Certain Regard, the section of the festival dedicated to showcasing films with unusual and innovative styles and techniques and non-traditional stories.

It's the first movie in the Cannes Film Festival official selection for Saudi Arabia.

Norah is a drama set in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s and follows the story of two unlikely characters whose meeting changes the course of their lives. Nader is a new teacher who arrives at a remote village where he meets Norah. Her curiosity and bravery inadvertently inspire him, and Norah finds herself intrigued by Nader and starts to question what life could be like outside her village and the world she has known her whole life.

The film, also written by Alzaidi, won a script fund award from the Saudi Film Commission’s Daw Film Competition, an initiative by the country’s Ministry of Culture to support young filmmakers. Norah is also the first Saudi feature film to be shot entirely in the AlUla region.

The Deer's Tooth

Palestinian writer and director Saif Hammash's first short film will be playing in the La Cinef category, itself dedicated to student-produced shorts from film schools worldwide. The story follows a young man from a refugee camp who embarks on a perilous journey to fulfil his little brother’s wish: to throw his milk tooth into the sea.

East of Noon

Egyptian visual artist Hala Elkoussy’s second feature film will be screening as part of the Directors' Fortnight section. The film is a fable-like story, which takes cues from The Arabian Nights and the influential French comic play that defied conventions, Ubu Roi.

Abdo is a talented musician living in an industrial wasteland that exists outside of time. Through his art, Abdo seeks freedom from the shackles of this world as he rebels against his elders and the authoritarianism of a childish tyrant whose currency is lottery tickets and sugar cubes.

Through her visual and directorial choices, Elkoussy evokes the stylised baroque aesthetics of African and Arab cinemas of the 1960s and '70s.

The Brink of Dreams

Egyptian directors Ayman El Amir and Nada Riyadh team up for this documentary, which is screening during Critics' Week. It follows a group of Coptic girls in southern Egypt as they refuse to adhere to the conventional roles forced on them by society and form an all-female street theatre troupe over four years.

This is El Amir and Riyadh’s second documentary together. Their 2016 collaboration feature Happily Ever After was also a close look at people fighting against the ideals of society. The film documents the breakdown of a marriage in the wake of the Arab uprisings.

Across the Sea

French-Moroccan filmmaker Said Hamich Benlarbi weaves a romantic drama into the experiences of a Moroccan immigrant in France. Screening during Critics' Week, the story follows Nour, 27, who emigrates to Marseille and survives by committing petty crimes and partying with friends.

Her life becomes even more complex when she meets an unpredictable police officer in the city.

My Father’s House

My Father's House is one of the four Palestinian documentaries being presented to potential buyers in unfinished form at Cannes. It is also by Fleifel, whose film To a Land Unknown is screening during Directors' Fortnight.

The documentary delves into themes of memory, exile and the relationship between a father and his son through Fleifel's own narrative.

Nine years after his father’s death, Fleifel returns from years of exile to the small town of Elsinore in Denmark, where he grew up, and begins a journey of reconciliation and working through grief.

Palestine Comedy Club

Alaa Aliabdallah’s first feature documentary, still unfinished but up for presentation this year, is a close look at Palestinian comedians on tour. Aliabdallah, more popularly known as Regash, follows five who write and take their routines on tour as they explore the dark humour connected to Palestinian identity.

The documentary attempts to follow comedy traditions to encourage honest and open reflections, through laughter and shared common humanity.

Unmaking of

Less than two weeks before shooting a movie by a Palestinian-American actress and director Cherien Dabis in the West Bank, war breaks out in Gaza. Bilal Alkhatib, a filmmaker from Palestine, follows the studio crew for a week. The unfinished documentary showcases the impact war has on artists and the challenging realities they face.

The Myth of Mahmoud

Palestinian director Mayar Hamdan picks up a camera and starts documenting the lives of her maternal family in Doha in another unfinished film being showcased in the festival's market. The Myth of Mahmoud follows Hamdan’s mother, Amal, and her grief over the loss of her husband and her general state of displacement both emotionally and physically.

Behind her sarcastic outlook on life, Amal has a daunting decision to make about where to live when she receives her “end of service” letter after 60 years in Doha. This decision will impact herself, her elderly mother and her emotionally unstable sister, all of whom are dealing with trauma in their own ways.

Cannes Film Festival runs until May 25

Updated: May 15, 2024, 4:27 AM