The Venice Film Festival opens at the end of next month, and alongside a wealth of big ticket international features such as Todd Phillips' Batman spin-off, Joker, and Taika Waititi's Nazi-era satire Jojo Rabbit, there's plenty of movies with a Middle Eastern flavour to sample if you need a break from the gondolas, Gothic palaces and Gotham-set films too. Here's our pick of films from the region which will be screening at this year's event:
'Scales', Shahad Ameen, United Arab Emirates
Saudi director Shahad Ameen continues with her aquatic theme following 2013's prize-winning Dubai International Film Festival short Eye and Mermaid. This time around, Ameen takes us to a dystopian village where children are sacrificed to nearby mermaid-like sea creatures, offering a nuanced critique on the role of women in Middle Eastern society in the process.
'You Will Die at 20', Amjad Abu Alala, Sudan
First time, self-taught, Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala is bringing his debut feature to the Venice Days, the independent sidebar that runs concurrently with the main Venice festival. You Will Die at 20 is the story of a man who grows up haunted by a Dervish prophesy predicting his untimely death. Abu Alala has already screened several shorts at international festivals, including 2005's Feathers of the Birds, which is believed to mark the return of Sudanese cinema following the end of the country's bitter civil war that year.
'The Perfect Candidate', Haifa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia
Saudi director Haifa Al Mansour is the only director from the region with a film in the main, official competition at this year's festival. The director, best known for the critically acclaimed Wadjda, which was Saudi's first ever Oscars submission in 2012, made her Hollywood debut with 2017's Elle Fanning and Maisie Williams-starring Mary Shelley in 2017. She heads to Venice with her latest film, starring Mila Alzahrani, Nourah Al Awad and Dhae Al Hilali, which follows a young Saudi female doctor who decides to run for office in a municipal election.
'Give up the Ghost', Zain Duraie, Jordan
Jordanian director, and protege of Annemarie Jacir, Zain Duraie, picked up awards for her debut short, Horizon, at the Palm Springs and Franco Arab Film Festivals in 2013. She returns to Venice with her latest short, the taboo-breaking tale of a young wife struggling with her husband's sterile condition and her mother-in-law's assumption that she is infertile.
'Bik Eneich – Un Fils', Medhi M Barsaoui, Tunisia
Medhi Barsaoui’s Tunisian/French/Lebanese co-production tells the story of 10-year-old Aziz, who is shot in an ambush while taking a family holiday in southern Tunisia. The youngster subsequently requires a liver transplant, which unlocks a simmering family secret. The film will screen out of competition where, confusingly, it will compete for the Orizzonti awards.
'Les Epouvantails', Nouri Bouzid, Tunisia
Veteran Tunisian director Bouzid returns after a protracted absence since 2012's UAE co-produced, Arab Spring-inspired Millefeuille. Details about his latest, Tunisia/Morocco/Luxembourg co-produced film are sparse at present, though having previously delved into radical Islamism, the Gulf War and the Arab Spring revolutions in previous films, we can assume he won't be pulling any punches.
'All This Victory', Ahmad Ghossein, Lebanon
This Lebanese war film, set during the 2006 conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, hit the awards trail before it was even made, picking up the Karlovy Film Festival’s Eastern Promises award for Works in Progress in July 2018. Now, the completed film, which follows a group of men trapped in a house occupied by Israeli soldiers, will head to Venice’s Critics’ Week section, where it will be hoping to add to its silverware.
'Arab Blues', Manele Labidi
Manele Labidi's comedy has already picked up international distribution ahead of its Venice bow, which is usually a sign of a decent movie. Arab Blues follows Selma, a psychoanalyst, who deals with a cast of colourful new patients after returning home to Tunisia to open a practice. The sales pitch promises that Labidi will open a fascinating window into modern Tunisia at a crossroads, with a story of contrasts, contradictions and culture clashes, full of vitality and humour.