Three to see at LFF if you like... films from the Middle East and North Africa

Elhum Shakerifar recommends three hot tickets at the BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a great debut and a wild card.

Elhum Shakerifar

The new film from an established director…

Capernaum

Capernaum (2018)

What’s it about?

Twelve-year-old Zain is the eldest son in a desperately poor family. He and his siblings beg on the streets of Beirut in order to live; but when his beloved younger sister is married off to the family’s landlord, he has nothing left to lose.

Who made it?

Nadine Labaki was catapulted into the international spotlight through her debut feature, Caramel, about a women’s beauty salon, which debuted in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight and received widespread international acclaim. Her status was reconfirmed by her second Cannes debuting feature, Where Do We Go from Here?, which also picked up the People’s Choice Award at TIFF.

What’s special about it?

Capernaum screens as this year’s LFF Debate Gala, and it asks big questions: about the impacts of poverty, about children growing up too quickly, living adult lives in adult worlds. The performances of the young (largely non-professional) cast are outstanding, and the film’s commitment to seeing the world through a child’s eyes is both heartbreaking and effective in driving home an important message.

Labaki’s films have always had a strong human thread, her characters relatable. Picking up the Jury Prize in Cannes this year, Capernaum is her most assured film to date.  

See this if you like…

Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle; When I Saw You by Annemarie Jacir

The breakthrough…

The Day I Lost My Shadow

The Day I Lost My Shadow (2018)

What’s it about?

Syria, 2012. Sana tries to create a normal everyday for her eight-year-old son Khalil despite electricity and water shortages, stress and anxiety. Straying unexpectedly far from home to find gas one day, Sana realises that the war is causing the unimaginable: peoples’ shadows are disappearing. 

Who made it?

Syrian director Soudade Kaadan has an extensive background in documentaries such as Damascus Roof and Tales of Paradise, which won the Muhr Arab Documentary award in Dubai International Film Festival, and more recently Obscure, about children and trauma in the fall out of the Syrian conflict. 

What’s special about it?

Screening in LFF’s First Feature Competition, The Day I Lost My Shadow is Kaadan’s first foray into fiction storytelling. Here, the impact of conflict is related from a very human perspective – we are witness to day-to-day struggles but also resilience, hope, acts of kindness.

Disappearing shadows may sound like magical realism but are perhaps more accurately read as another impact of conflict: a chilling warning, that such tragedies – which we are currently witness to – have impacts beyond what is humanly conceivable. Kaadan’s debut was awarded the Lion of the Future at its world premiere in Venice Film Festival. 

See this if you like…

Beauty and the Dogs by Kaouther Ben Hania, Where Do We Go Now? by Nadine Labaki

The wild card…

Yomeddine

Yomeddine (2018)

What’s it about?

After his wife’s death, Beshay decides to find his birth family – leaving behind the leper colony where he scrapes together a livelihood working in a rubbish dump. When local orphan Obama decides to join him, the unlikely duo’s road trip becomes a journey of friendship as well as belonging.

Who made it?

Egyptian-Austrian director Abu Bakr (‘AB’) Shawky made waves when Yomeddine, his first feature, was announced as part of the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. It was awarded the Francois Chalais Prize for “life-affirming works” and Shawky is the 2018 recipient of the Variety MENA Talent of the Year Award.

What’s special about it?

Yomeddine was developed over many years, taking initial inspiration from a student film Shawky had made with the residents of Egypt’s infamous leper colony, Abu Zaabal. He speaks of a fascination with being an outsider and it is to his credit that the film doesn’t slip into sentimentality or distance in its depiction of Beshay, played by non-actor Rady Gamal who suffers from leprosy.

Widely lauded for his film’s gentleness and care, Shawky achieves something unique and moving in this portrait of outsiders. In this, Yomeddine does exactly what the best films do – it’s put you in someone else’s shoes.

See this if you like…

The Breadwinner by Nora Twomey, Wolf & Sheep by Shahrbanoo Sadat, Son of Babylon by Mohamed Al Daradji

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  • BFI London Film Festival

    BFI London Film Festival

    The 62nd BFI London Film Festival runs 10-21 October 2018. Browse for tickets online and don’t forget that a limited number of standby tickets will...

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