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Four must-watch MENA films from the 2019 Venice Film Festival Open in fullscreen

Sarah Khalil

Four must-watch MENA films from the 2019 Venice Film Festival

Haifaa al-Mansour's 'The Perfect Candidate' [STILL]

Date of publication: 25 August, 2019

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Four films from the region to look out for at this year's Venice film festival.
The 76th Venice Film Festival opens next week with dozens of films and documentary features vying for honours, the most prestigious being the Golden Lion -  Lion d'Or - award. Of them, a number of films directed by Middle Eastern film makers made the cut.

As one of the oldest film festivals in the world, the star-studded event is seen by many as a spring-board for Oscar success. Controversy has marked this year's festival however, with selectors coming in for strong criticism for choosing only two films directed by women.

One of the two, and the first of four on The New Arab’s list of must-watch films from the festival, is Haifaa al-Mansour's "The Perfect Candidate".

1. The Perfect Candidate 

Saudi Arabia's Haifaa al-Mansour, known for her critically acclaimed film Wadjda, is the first Arab woman to compete for the Gold Lion award at Venice.

Her film, "The Perfect Candidate", tells the story of a young female doctor trying to run in local elections in the Saudi Arabian kingdom. Starring Mila Alzahrani, Nourah Al Awad, Dhae Al Hilali, it is the only entry from the region competing for the Golden Lion.

"The Perfect Candidate focuses on a female Saudi doctor who challenges the patriarchal system," the director said, adding that the doctor does so by running as a candidate in municipal elections in order to fix the roads leading up to the clinic.

For al-Mansour, the film seeks above all to show the positive role women can play in the kingdom.

"Through her journey I want to show an optimistic view of the role women can play in Saudi society and the contributions they can make towards forging their own destinies," the director said.

2. The Scarecrows [Les épouvantails]

Director Nouri Bouzid's timely The Scarecrows speaks of two young women returning to Tunisia from Syria, where they were sequestrated and raped amid the brutal conflict. 

In Tunisia, both women embark on a hard and lengthy journey attempting to reconstruct their lives. The film touches on other social injustices against women and minority groups.

Starring Nour Hajri, Afef Ben Mahmoud, Joumene Limam, Mehdi Hajri, Sondos Belhassen and Fatma Ben Saïdane, The Scarecrow has been selected for the Sconfini section.

3. A Son [Bik Eneich – Un Fils]

Director Mehdi M. Barsaoui's A Son is set in Tunisia in the summer of 2011.

A family holiday to the south of the country ends in disaster as Fares and Meriem and their 10-year-old son Aziz get caught up in an ambush. Aziz is shot and needs a liver transplant – his condition leading to the discovery of a long-buried secret that will test Fares and Meriem's relationship.

"I live in a patriarchal society based on Muslim-Arab values, deeply entrenched in ways that hold the Father as sacred," the director said. "These values sometimes confine paternity to a blood relationship, a surname, a genetic sequence.

"Bik Eneich – Un Fils is not just a film about fatherhood; it’s also a film about a couple, their place in society, and also about empowerment - both feminine and masculine. It's a journey towards the truth - towards emancipation."

Starring Sami Bouajila, Najla Ben Abdallah, Youssef Khemiri, Noomene Hamda, Slah Msaddek and Med Ali Ben Jemaa, A Son will compete for the Orizzonti awards.

4. Give Up the Ghost 

Director Zain Duraie's Give Up the Ghost tells the tale of Salam, whose dream of motherhood is shattered once she finds out she is unable to have children with her husband.

A lifetime of convictions and beliefs are put to the test as she realises she must make a choice.

"Infertility and love together becomes a social stigma," the director said.

"The film poses essential questions on how social pressure and the expectations that parents have on their children to rise up to a certain image could negatively influence a person's character.

"Human actions depending on external judgmental forces can destroy your inner peace, but what if we stand for what we believe in, to become leaders and not followers to what society wants to make of us? What if we already have the key to our cage in our pockets?"

The Venice Film Festival opens on August 28 and will run until September 7.

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