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Meditations On The Middle East

 

678 (Mohamed Diab, Egypt) 

There is no doubt that we are living in historic times. The political and social upheaval in the Middle East and northern Africa are among the most stunning events of the new millennium, and it still remains unclear whether this will herald a period of unprecedented stability and its complete opposite. Helping us to understand the turmoil and the inner lives of those cultures, four films in the New Directors/New Film series, entering its first weekend at New York's prestigious Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, are a good place to start.

Among the most interesting is 678, a fascinating look at contemporary Egyptian culture by director Mohamed Diab. The film highlights the stories of three women of very different social and economic status in Cairo as they share their stories of domestic violence and their determination to fight sexual harrasment. A secular woman from Egypt's upper class and a devout Moslem wife of limited means have more in common than it first appears.....specifically their cultural and religious suppression in a society where men clearly rule the roost. The women look to collective action and even violence to undo the results of thousands of years of second class status.....a movement that will continue no matter what style of government takes hold in Egypt. The film, which had its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival last December, won both Best Actor and Best Actress prizes at the Middle East's most prestigious film event.

 

For the first time in its 40 year history, NDNF boasts not one but two Egyptian films in its program. The second is MICROPHONE, an existential drama starring Egyptian hearthrob Khaled Abol Naga. Directed by Ahmad Abdalla, the film tells the tale of a man who returns to his hometown of Alexandria in a search for purpose. He has just broken off with his ex-girlfriend and has a tense relationship with his aging father. Wandering the streets of the ancient  city, he comes upon a group of young bohemians who are committed to making art and music. His staid world turns upside down and he begins to realize the limitations of his old existence and discovers a real connection with this new world. The film had its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and won a Best Editing prize at the Dubai International Film Festival.

 

INCENDIES by Quebec director Denis Villeneuve had the distinction of being one of only five international films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Based on an award-winning Canadian stage play, the powerful drama tells the story of twins (one male, one female) who have lost their mother and then travel ot the Middle East to find their father, who they had presumed to be long dead. Their physical and metaphysical journey back to their family and cultural roots puts into sharp profile the differences between East and West and the reconciliation that must come to a family and to a world that is threatening to pulled apart by religious dogma. The film recently won a Genie Award (the Canadian Oscar) for its talented director. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in North America next month.

 

The Closing Night attraction of the New Directors/New Films program is the Iranian/French film CIRCUMSTANCE, which features a startling debut by its director Maryam Keshavarz. The film follows two secular Iranian women as they live life in the shadows of the repressive regime of their native country. Listening to forbidden music, going to alcohol-fueled parties and especially discovering a lesbian liaison between them, the film explores the ripening of feelings between the two women and offers a portrait of youthful rebellion under the most difficult of circumstances. The film recently won the Audience Award at last January's Sundance Film Festival and will open in North America via specialty distributor Roadside Attractions later this season. For more information on the NDNF program which runs to April 3, visit: www.newdirectors.org

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor 

 

 

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(International Media Resources)

The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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