The Arab films vying for the Oscars 2020 race: from Palestine to Morocco

In 2019, Nadine Labaki's 'Capernaum' and Talal Derki's 'Of Fathers and Sons' were the only two Arab films nominated for an Oscar. Will 2020 see more nods?

Lubna Azabal in Maryam Touzani's 'Adam', which is Morocco's pick for this year's Oscars race. 
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After the 2019 Oscars, the Academy decided to change the name of its Best Foreign Language Film category to Best International Feature Film (however, films still need to be in a foreign language to be eligible).

Despite the name change, this category remains the main port of call for regional films vying for an Oscar, and five countries from the Arab world have made their submissions so far this year.

There will undoubtedly be more to come, but here are the regional contenders for Best International Feature Film to date:

Saudi Arabia: 'The Perfect Candidate' by Haifaa Al Mansour

Saudi's first female filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour's The Perfect Candidate has already made an impact on the international film festival circuit, with screenings in both Venice and Toronto. The film tells the story of Dr Maryam, an overworked medic who decides to run for a seat on the municipal council. The story explores her journey to be taken seriously in a male-dominated world, and does so with both drama and humour. The film, starring Mila Al Zahrani, Nora Al Awadh and Dae Al Hilali, sees Mansour back on home soil and at her best.

Palestine: 'It Must Be Heaven' by Elia Suleiman

Elia Suleiman's latest satirical film won the Jury Special Mention award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The film, follows Suleiman as he goes from Paris to New York alongside co-star Ali Suliman (Homeland, Lone Survivor). It's a semi-autobiographical tale of a Palestinian man seeking a new home, only to find similarities with his own homeland wherever he goes.

Suleiman’s film also picked up the Fipresci Critics’ Award at Cannes, which took place in May. “In a subtle, stylistically strong and humorous way, this film tells a story that goes beyond politics, religions, authorities and cultural differences," the jury said in a statement.

"Even though those differences are observed with a sharp eye for the absurd that slides through hypocrisy and are delivered with great cinematic and often surprising choreographies.” It is screening this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Lebanon: '1982' by Oulaid Mouaness

Last year, Nadine Labaki made headline news when she became the first Arab female director to have a film nominated in the Best Foreign Film category. This year, she stars in Oualid Mouaness's film 1982, won the Netpac Award at the Toronto International Film Festival last month and which has been selected as Lebanon's submission to the Oscars. The film tells the story of a boy who is anxious about winning over a school crush. The drama, which is set in a private school outside Beirut and takes place over a single June day in 1982, is based on Mouaness's childhood remembrances of his experience when Israel's invasion of Lebanon began in the summer of that year. It is his first feature film.

Egypt: 'Poisonous Roses' by Ahmad Fawzi Saleh

Fawzi Saleh's first feature premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam last year. The film tells the story of Saqr, who dreams of a better life beyond his tannery job in the slums, but whose strong love for his sister ties him to the location.

Poisonous Roses stars Egyptian star Mahmoud Hemida and Merihan Magdi; and is written and directed by Ahmad Fawzi Saleh.

Morocco: 'Adam' by Maryam Touzani

Maryam Touzani's Adam screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival this year. It is a beautiful film about a friendship between an unwed pregnant hairdresser and a widowed mother.

Speaking to The National, Touzani said that the idea for the film is based on a real life incident. "One day, a young woman came knocking at our door looking for work," she recalls. "My mum quickly understood that she wasn't looking for a job, but as the woman was heavily pregnant my mother was worried about sending her away. At that time, it was illegal for a hospital to assist unwed women in giving birth, so my parents decided to take her in."

“In a country like mine, it’s the biggest shame for a woman to have a child out of wedlock,” she says. The film is Touzani's first feature.

Tunisia: 'Dear Son' by Mohamed Ben Attia

Mohamed Ben Attia tells a deeply moving and powerful story in his latest, Dear Son. The film tells the story of a middle class Tunisian family whose life revolves around their only son Sami.

The boy, who is preparing for his high school exams, suffers repeated migraine attacks, which create great concern for his parents. However, just when he starts to get better, he disappears.

This is Ben Attia's second film following his award-winning debut Hedi.

Algeria: 'Papicha' by Mounia Meddour

Set in Algeria in the 1990s, Papicha tells the story of Nedjma, an 18-year-old student who loves fashion and going out with her friends. This lifestyle is challenged by a growing campaign for women to wear the burqa. Her life changes after a dramatic attack and Nedjma decides to create a fashion show as a symbol of resistance. It's a film that its director Mounia Meddour had been trying to make for five years due to financial challenges. The film screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May of this year.


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