Movie Mondays: Cinema from the Middle East

~posted by Frank

If your knowledge of the Middle East is limited to what you see and hear on the news, consider these ten films from from the region that deal with everyday life – many grim, some humorous – as they shed some light on this tumultuous region.

For films dealing directly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these recent releases are at the top of the list. Omar (2013) earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for its thrilling portrayal of a Palestinian man whose loyalties to his friends and the love of his life are tested after being forced to work for the military police as an informant. The Attack (2013) follows an Arab surgeon living in Tel Aviv whose life is turned upside down when his wife is killed in a restaurant – and she’s accused of being the suicide bomber. And  Bethlehem (2013) explores the conflicted relationship between an officer with the Israeli Secret Service and his teenage Palestinian informant.

Three films that explore the lives of children were released in the past year, led by the remarkable Wadjda (2012). The story, about a 10-year-old Saudi girl who enters a competition to memorize the Koran in order to win a bicycle she covets, is not only the first film to come from Saudi Arabia, but is also directed by a woman. Not as groundbreaking but no less notable are When I Saw You (2012), which follows a 10-year-old Palestinian boy and his mother who are living in “temporary” refugee camps in Jordan, and Horses of God (2014) – set in Morocco, but thematically similar to many Middle Eastern films – about two poor, young brothers who part ways but reunite later to participate in Morocco’s suicide bombings in 2003.

Not all films from the region deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict directly, as in Out in the Dark (2012), where a gay love affair between a Palestinian student and an Israeli lawyer takes center stage. And these three films don’t deal with it at all: Fill the Void (2013), where an 18-year-old Hasidic Jewish woman is forced to marry her late sister’s husband; The Matchmaker (2010), a coming-of-age comedy-drama set in 1968, about a teenage boy who goes to work for a Holocaust survivor who is also a matchmaker; and Big Bad Wolves (2013), an exceedingly black comedy from Israel about the father of a murdered girl who exacts revenge on the main suspect with the help of a renegade police officer that Quentin Tarantino called the best film of 2013

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