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Sarah Khalil

Six Arab films that should be at the Oscars

Barakah Meets Barakah highlights social obstacles faced by young couples in Saudi Arabia [TIFF]

Date of publication: 25 February, 2017

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Every year a few critically acclaimed productions from the MENA region go unnoticed by the Academy, and 2017 is no exception.
While the plight of Syrian refugees landed three films at the Oscars this year, the Arab world also saw the release of a number of major productions and feature films worthy of a nomination.

The films were submitted to the academy under the foreign-language category but failed to get a nomination.

Most notable is Yemen's first ever submission "I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced, Yemen", as well as Egypt's "Clash" and Palestine's "The Idol", which have already made a name for themselves at major film festivals.

Here's a list of some critically acclaimed MENA productions, which failed to make the cut at the Oscars this year.

1. Barakah Meets Barakah, Saudi Arabia

The film highlights social obstacles faced by young couples in a country where women's activities are strictly controlled.Mahmoud Sabbagh's directorial debut is a light-hearted "coming of age" romance.

It tells the story of a young run-of-the-mill, mid-level civil-servant, Barakah, who tries to woo the adopted daughter of a rich family, Bibi.

2. Clash, Egypt

A powerful Egyptian film shot entirely inside the back of a police van brought the country's post-Arab Spring woes to the Cannes film festival.

The film features secular and Muslim Brotherhood supporters who have been arrested by police while rioting breaks out in Cairo.

Even before Tom Hanks gave it the Hollywood "bump" by urging everyone to see it, the feature film - directed by Mohamed Diab, 38, - was being touted as one of the must-see films of the year.

3. El Clasico, Iraq

Raising the question on how much people are willing to risk for love, the film tells the story of two brothers, both affected by dwarfism, who come from a town in Iraq's semi- autonomous Kurdistan.

These men are willing to risk their lives to deliver a pair of shoes to football star Cristiano Ronaldo, which one of the brothers, Alan, believes will bring him closer to marrying the love of his life.

Directed by Halkawt Mustafa, the film is shot in both Iraq and Spain and "offers unusual views of a war-torn region, through the lens of a romantic story tinged with allegory", according to Hollywood Reporter.

4. The Flower of Aleppo, Tunisia

The film tells the story of a mother who joins Islamic State in Syria to search for her son, after he enlists to fight with the militant group following his parents' divorce.

The gripping drama is directed by veteran filmmaker Ridha Behi and stars acclaimed Tunisian film and TV actress Hend Sabry.

5. I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced, Yemen

Shot on the backdrop of strikingly beautiful landscapes, the film relays the stark story of underage marriage among Yemeni tribes.

Forced by her father to marry a man three times her age Nojoom escapes her family and files for divorce in court.

The film was was directed by Khadija al-Salami, who herself experienced forced marriage at age 11.

6. The Idol, Palestine

A drama directed by Hany Abu-Assad that relays the story of Mohammed Assaf, a singer from a refugee camp in Gaza who won the 2013 Arab Idol singing competition.

The film was partially shot in Gaza, making it the first feature production to be filmed there in decades.

It was featured at the Special Presentations section of the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015.

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