In some ways, Middle Eastern cinema has come of age, as I have been seeing here at the 7th Dubai International Film Festival. Many of the movies go beyond the entertainment genre, and are powerful social documents. And boldly so. Some can hardly be called entertaining, but producers, scriptwriters and directors seem unconcerned. Their brief appears clear. They must present a cinema of substance, even if that means dumping amusement.Screenwriter Mohamed Diab’s debut helming effort, Six, Seven, Eight, takes an unflinching look at sexual harassment. Three women living in Cairo, from varying social and economic strata, find their lives miserable and torturous when they are constantly abused. Nelly dreams of being a stand-up comic, but her reputation is in disarray after she files a sexual
Bushra, who plays Fayza, told a press conference that molesters did not confine themselves to any particular age group or economic status. When asked how women would like to defend themselves she said that each would have to make her own choice. Fayza, for instance, uses a sharp pin-like object to maim the men who paw her.
Also equally disturbing was an Iraqi film, The Singer. Helmer Kassem Hawal gives us a brutal image of a dictator (who resembles Saddam Hussein). When a renowned singer’s car breaks down and he is delayed for a performance to celebrate the dictator’s birthday, he is humiliated and disgraced. What is as awful is the way women guests are frisked, and watched over by male guards.
Jordan’s Transit Cities reveals the cultural shock of a woman who returns to Amman after a 10-year stay in the U.S. She finds herself shackled by religious intolerance. In a very telling scene, a bank manager gives her a rug and asks here to cover her bare legs! The message may not be exactly welcome: the woman’s father asking her to leave her own country may well sound terribly defeatist. Does this sound like the desperate cry of a population, at least a large part of it, that may well want to move on in life without severe restrictions?
Middle Eastern movies are quite daring, and present the dichotomy of a society in turmoil.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Dubai International Film Festival)