Art And Culture

Middle East Hopes to Pull Off Another Oscar Win

A screenshot from Palestine submission to Oscar ‘Wajib’.A screenshot from Palestine submission to Oscar ‘Wajib’.

In her recent article in, film critic Alissa Simon has pointed to the powerful cinematic productions in the Middle East which can end up among the final five nominees in the foreign language film category at the 90th Academy Awards.

As she wrote, with last year’s winner, Asghar Farhadi’s ‘The Salesman’, hailing from Iran, Oscar handicappers should be sure to give the Middle Eastern titles close scrutiny this time around.

Among the region’s 11 submissions are several films likely to be highly competitive in the foreign language category including ‘The Insult’, from Lebanon, directed by Ziad Doueiri.

‘The Insult’ is both universal and specific: a trivial contretemps between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian construction worker escalates into a tense, highly publicized trial that ends up further dividing Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim populations.

As the disputants take their struggle for dignity and justice into the courtroom, their respective attorneys rake through traumatic incidents from their clients’ past and unleash every trick in their repertoire. Doueiri deftly and even-handedly delves into his country’s contentious past while subtly commenting on positive and negative aspects of male pride.

While ‘The Insult’ represents the region’s best bets for an Oscar nomination, there are several dark horse titles that could nab a spot on the shortlist of nine. Chief among them: ‘Wajib’ from Palestine, helmed by Annemarie Jacir. Her latest is a wry dramedy that follows a divorced father and his visiting architect son as they hand-deliver wedding invitations in Nazareth.

With the charismatic, richly nuanced playing of real-life father and son Mohammed and Saleh Bakri as the leads, Jacir’s wise screenplay subtly brings out differences in generational attitudes and contradictions in outlook between those who leave their country and those who remain.

The lineup also includes Afghanistan’s ‘A Letter to the President’, which is a rough-edged feminist drama about a female Kabul police chief, helmed by Roya Sadat, the country’s first distaff director to emerge in the post-Taliban era.

Iraq’s ‘The Dark Wind’ addresses another torn-from-the-headlines subject. Director Hussein Hassan sensitively tells the story of a kidnapped Kurdish woman sold into slavery by the IS. Shot in refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, the film treats explosive subject matter in a quietly authentic, non-exploitive fashion.

And what has Iran mustered to follow up on Farhadi’s win? For the first time, Iran tenders a film from a female helmer: Narges Abyar’s ‘Breath’. It is a touching anti-war drama that follows a poor family during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the first years of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony will take place March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles.  Nine finalists from among the dozens of entries in the foreign language category will be shortlisted late this year, with the final five nominees to be announced early in 2018.

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