JEDDAH: The Red Sea Film Festival (RSFF) has emerged as a platform to showcase Arabic-language films,especially those from the nascent Saudi cinema.

In its current edition, 61 Arabic-language films were screened in theatres in the coastal city of Jeddah. The number includes feature films as well as short films.

At the start of the festival, Raven Song, a Saudi Arabian film written and directed by Mohamed Al Salman, was screened. Premiered in the festival, it’s the official Saudi entry for the Oscars.

The film is about a young man, a university dropout, suffering from brain tumour and ridiculed by his father for not being competent enough. On his friend’s suggestion, he decides to write a song for the girl he likes. In the background of the movie runs the conflict between classical and modern free verse poetry. The journalists who eulogise the poets without reason are also taken into account.

Despite an immaculate performance by Ibraheem Khairallah in the lead role and other actors, the film falls short of leaving an impact on the audience. Perhaps a little less dose of surrealism would have come in handy.

Sattar is another Saudi Arabian film which premiered at the festival. Like other Saudi films, its cinematography and other technical aspects were perfect. Directed by Abdullah Al Arak, it tells the story of a struggling young man who wants to be a professional wrestler and takes part in a professional wrestling competition, winning it at the end.

The story has too much fantasy in it and does not ring true, perhaps more due to the American style of wrestling competition with a lot of stake money in the middle of Riyadh. It also reminded one of some boxing movies and the rise of boxers from the bottom of the contests. The film moves on like a formula movie.

Many Middle Eastern countries have been at the centre of violent conflicts over the last two decades and it is but natural if filmmakers and artistes correspond to the events surrounding them through the art.

Rebel, an Arabic film from Belgium and France, revolves around the Syrian conflict. It shows how a young college dropout comes to Syria to do humanitarian work and lands in the hands of the militant Islamic State group (IS) against his will.

Once in the middle of the conflict, he loses his choice and is forced to kill people to save his own life. Back home in Belgium, his single mom struggles while IS recruiters trick his impressionable teenage brother on the pretext of helping him to meet his brother in Syria.

There are multiple sub-themes in the film, including the struggle of a single immigrant mother and treatment of women by militants. Most of the actors are of Middle East descent and their performances were flawless. The scenes of the conflict, though long, were beautifully picturised.

The movie, which takes a dig at international jihad, has got a 7.8 rating at the Internet Movie Database.

Comic relief

A Gaza Weekend, a joint Palestine-UK production, brought some comic relief to a festival that would have become heavy on the mind with so many movies from the drama genre playing around.

The film shows the story of an English journalist, played by Stephen Mangan, and his Israeli girlfriend who try to get out of the country through the Gaza Strip as all other passages are closed due to the pandemic. The presence of an Israeli inside Hamas-controlled territory creates a funny situation as both the foreigners get their passports forged to pose as Palestinian.

They are helped by a bankrupt Palestinian couple to get out of the troubled land. One of the best, if not the best, Arabic language movies screened at the RSFF was Alam (Flag), a co-production made by France, Tunisia, Palestine, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2022

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