Palestinian film and actress Hend Sabri win top awards at Critics Awards for Arab Films in Cannes

Tunisian and Palestinian films, as well as a work by a Dubai-based filmmaker, won awards at the Cannes event

Hend Sabri drew inspiration from women she knew in real life for her role in ‘Noura’s Dream’. Tiff
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The winners have just been announced for the fourth Critics Awards for Arab Films: 141 jury members from 57 countries voted to determine the top films.

The event is organised by the Arab Cinema Centre as part of the Virtual Marché du Film, which took place on the margins of the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival (a digital event this year).

The films must have premiered at international film festivals outside of the Arab world during 2019, and at least one of the production companies must be Arab (regardless of the size of its contribution to the production of the film). In addition, the films must be feature-length films (whether fiction or documentary).

The winners are... 

Best Documentary

Talking About Trees | Directed by Suhaib Gasmelbari | Sudan

This quietly compelling debut feature documentary won the Golden Star for Best Feature Documentary at Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival.

It captures four men and their warm camaraderie, energy and humour, as they attempt to reopen a large open-air cinema in a town away from the capital. Although filmmaker Suhaib Gasmelbari includes fragments of the men's films, Talking About Trees is not a documentary about the history of Sudanese cinema, but about the men in the present and, poignantly, "all these images that were prevented from being and the desire that remains inside them," the filmmaker told us.

Best Film and Best Director 

It Must Be Heaven | Director: Elia Suleiman | Palestine

This satirical film is the latest by Palestinian director Elia Suleiman. It won the Jury Special Mention award at the Cannes Film Festival last year and was Palestine’s submission for the Academy Awards. The semi-autobiographical film follows Suleiman as he travels from Paris to New York, seeking a new home, only to find similarities with his own homeland wherever he goes.

It is available to watch in the UAE on the OSN streaming app. Read our full interview with Suleiman here.

Best Actress

Hend Sabri | Noura's Dream | Tunisia

In this film, Hend Sabri plays a woman trying to navigate relationships on her own terms and find long-­overdue happiness while her abusive, small-time criminal husband, Sofiane (Lotfi Abdelli), is in jail.

Her character Noura is struggling to raise their three children while working in a dead-end job in a hospital’s laundry department. An affair with mechanic Lassaad (Hakim Boumsaoudi) is the hopeful spot in her life, but they face time in jail for adultery if they are caught.

Best Actor

Sami Bouajila | A Son | Tunisia

In the film, Meriem (Najla Ben Abdallah) is at a party celebrating a promotion at work. On the drive home from the event, tragedy strikes when she and her husband Fares (Sami Bouajila) drive down a road where extremists are attacking the military. In the crossfire, their son Aziz, 10, (Youssef Khemiri) is shot and critically wounded.

The parents are told that Aziz must have a liver transplant. But when the doctors run blood tests to try to match a family member as a donor, the family is rocked by the revelation that Fares is not Aziz’s father. It’s a cleverly designed story. Through the moral conundrum faced by the couple, Barsaoui creates an overarching metaphor for what was happening in Tunisia during this period of turmoil.

Best Screenplay

Amjad Abu Alala, Yousef Ibrahim | You Will Die At Twenty | Sudan

Dubai-based Amjad Abu Alala's first feature, You Will Die at 20, is a metaphor for the country under the rule of Al Bashir. Based on a short story by Sudanese writer and activist Hammour Ziada, the film tells the story of a boy, 19, called Muzamil (Mustafa Shehata) who, as an infant, was told he would die on the day he turns 20. Muzamil lives his life passively in a small village in central Sudan, following the orders of the authority figures in his life about how he should live. He slowly learns to think for himself, breaking free from the shackles of expectation and, ultimately, setting his own destiny – much like the Sudanese people did when the regime of Al Bashir was overthrown on April 11 last year.

You Will Die at 20, which won the Lion of the Future Award when the film was screened at last year's Venice Film Festival, has been embraced by Sudanese people across the world. "They travelled from across Canada and the US to come to the Toronto premiere," Abu Alala told The National. The festival had to put on an extra screening to accommodate ­everyone.

Read our full interview with Abu Alala here.