Oscars 2022: 10 films from the Arab world submitted for Best International Feature

Somalia makes history with 'The Gravedigger's Wife' for first Oscar submission

Saleh Bakri and Nadine Labaki in 'Costa Brava, Lebanon', directed by Mounia Akl
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Ten films from the Arab world have been officially submitted in the race for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars 2022, including an entry from Somalia for the first time.

The category looks at films that are predominantly non-English in dialogue, including animation and documentary films. A shortlist of 15 finalists will be announced on December 21, with five nominees announced on February 8, 2022.

Last year, two films from the Arab world received Oscar nominations in two different categories: The Man Who Sold His Skin by Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania for Best International Feature Film, and Farah Nabulsi's The Present in the Best Live Action Short category.

The 94th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, March 27, 2022.

Here is a look at the 10 Arab film submissions:

1. 'Casablanca Beats' by Nabil Ayouch (Morocco)

Nabil Ayouch's Casablanca Beats is considered the first fully Moroccan film to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, where it had its world premiere in July earlier this year. Inspired by Ayouch's own childhood experience, the film tells the story of a poverty-stricken area on the outskirts of Casablanca and the kind of change a new cultural centre does to its youth. Last week, the film had its red carpet screening at El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt.

Director Nabil Ayouch attends the press conference for 'Haut et Fort' (Casablanca Beats) during the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival, in France on July 16, 2021. Getty Images

2. 'The Stranger' by Ameer Fakher Eldin (Palestine)

This is the debut feature from Fakher Eldin, who has both written and directed The Stranger. Set in the occupied Golan Heights, the film stars Ashraf Barhom and Mohammaed Bakri and is about a desperate unlicensed doctor going through an existential crisis, when he encounters a wounded man in the war in Syria. The film won the Edipo Re Award for Inclusion at the Venice Film Festival this year.

Palestine's first Oscar submission was Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention in 2003. It has previously received two nominations for Best International Feature Film with Paradise Now (2005) and Omar (2013), both by Hany Abu-Asaad.

3. 'The Gravedigger's Wife' by Khadar Ayderus Ahmed (Somalia)

Somali-Finnish writer-director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed's film The Gravedigger's Wife has already made history. The film, which world premiered at Cannes Critics' Week in July, is the first Somali film to be submitted for the Oscars. The film has won the Amplify Voices Award at Toronto International Film Festival and the top prize at the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. It follows the love story of a gravedigger trying to find ways to pay for his sick wife's treatment.

Somali-Canadian model Yasmin Warsame stars in her first acting role in 'The Gravedigger's Wife'. Photo: Toronto International Film Festival

4. 'Golden Butterfly' by Abdelhamid Bouchnak (Tunisia)

Tunisia's National Centre for Cinema and Image announced earlier in October that Golden Butterfly (Papillon d'Or in French) by Abdelhamid Bouchnak had been selected to represent Tunisia at the Oscars. The film is the filmmaker's third feature. In 2020, Tunisia received its first Oscar nomination with Ben Hania's The Man Who Sold His Skin. It lost to the Mads Mikkelsen-starring Another Round.

5. 'Heliopolis by Djafar Gacem (Algeria)

Heliopolis has been selected for the second time to represent Algeria after its nomination was withdrawn last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The film is an Algerian drama based on the real-life events of May 8, 1945, in the city of Guelma, Algeria – called Heliopolis in ancient times – where French colonial forces attacked thousands of Algerians on the same day that the Europeans celebrated the end of the Second World War. The date is considered a day of mourning, where Algerians remember the thousands who perished in the attacks.

6. 'Amira' by Mohamed Diab (Jordan)

A tale of parentage and rebellion, Amira is inspired by a news story about Palestinian prisoners in Israel who smuggle their sperm out of jail.

“The moment I read about it, I thought ‘Is this a science fiction film?’ It’s so weird and yet so human. It’s a symbol of survival. To Palestinians, this is an untouched topic,” Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab told The National.

As the film explains, more than 100 children have been conceived in this manner. However, the film uses the smuggled sperm as a springboard into a gripping family melodrama, as its titular character discovers that the incarcerated man she thought to be her father is not her biological parent and sets out to find her origins.

7. ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ by Mounia Akl (Lebanon)

Mounia Akl’s debut feature Costa Brava, Lebanon is a family drama that mirrors the tragic reality that many in the country face today.

‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ is Lebanon's official selection for Best International Feature. Photo: Mounia Akl

The story follows the free-spirited Badri family, led by Souraya (Nadine Labaki) and Walid (Saleh Bakri) who escape the toxic pollution of Beirut to set up a new home in the mountains.

The twist comes when the government resolves to put a landfill site right next to their rural retreat, causing their own relationships to suffer.

8. 'Souad' by Ayten Amin (Egypt)

A film about the trials of adolescence, first love and self-validation in the age of social media, Souad tells the story of a girl, 19, navigating the pressures of a conservative society and the freedom of expression she finds online.

The second feature from Egyptian director Ayten Amin, Souad was screened at Cannes Film Festival 2020 and at this year’s Berlin and Tribeca film festivals.

"I was always interested in how social media played a role in changing the relationships we have," Amin told The National.

“It plays a major role for girls in small cities in Egypt because it’s like a window of freedom. It’s a place where they can play certain roles away from their daily life, their conservative life. It’s a place where they have a daily boost.”

9. 'The Tambour of Retribution' by Abdulaziz Alshlahei (Saudi Arabia)

Dayel, the son of an executor, falls in love with Shama, the daughter of a wedding tambourine player, in a film that pulls back the curtain on one of the oldest and most impoverished neighbourhoods in Riyadh.

He finds out that Shama has her heart set for her cousin, Soror, who is imprisoned for killing the man that molested her. Dayel then takes up his father's job as a swordsman, hoping to get the chance to execute Soror.

The film was declared a winner of the Arab Cinema's Horizons Award at the 2020 Cairo International Film Festival. Faisal Al Dokhei, who plays Dayel, won the award for Best Actor at the event.

10. 'Europa' by Haider Rashid (Iraq)

Part horrific reality show, part sci-fi thriller, Europa tells the story of young Iraqi refugee Kamal who is trying to cross into Europe. He is at the Turkish-Bulgarian border, where local mercenaries are hunting down migrants. Alone in the forest, he finds he only has a few days to escape.

'Europa' is the official Iraqi submission for the Best International Feature Film category at the 94th Academy Awards. Photo: Haider Rashid

The film, by Iraqi-Italian director Haider Rashid has been screened at several international film festivals, including War on Screen, the Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival and Nastro d'Argento, where the film picked up the Nastro della Legalita award.

“I really wanted to make a film that could be harrowing and claustrophobic and tough because I feel we're so anaesthetised right now from all the information," Rashid tells The National.

"The idea was to create an experience that was shocking because I feel in Europe the past few years it's been so difficult to deal with these issues. There's so much xenophobia and hate and propaganda that it's hard to even understand the concept of empathy. The tropes of a thriller are really useful in that, and I think using fiction in this way can go beyond what even a documentary can do.”

– This article was first published on October 24, 2021

Updated: November 16, 2021, 9:42 AM