Arab Auteur Film Art
An Authentic Image of the Arab Youth

A new kind of cinema has been emerging in the Arab world - "Arab auteur films". They are "up-close and personal" in the choice of content and in cineastic style. Could this trend be the future of Arab film? Stefanie Suren reports

A new kind of cinema has been emerging in the Arab world - "Arab auteur films". They are "up-close and personal" in the choice of content and in cineastic style. Could this trend be the future of Arab film? By Stefanie Suren

Film 'Ali Zaoua' by Nabil Ayouch

​​At international film festivals, Arab directors, especially young Moroccan and Lebanese film-makers, like Nabil Ayouch (Marocco, 1st Oscar Nominee) and Ghassan Salahd (Lebanon) as well as a strikingly large numbers of female directors have been highly praised by international critics.

Their films share a common characteristic: they are "up-close and personal" in the choice of content and in cineastic style - a shift away from global or national political messages that were common in the cineastic "realism" movement.

Road movie "Windhorse"

The Moroccan movie ‘Windhorse' is a road movie. It tells the story of two men, from two different generations travelling through Morocco. On the road they search for the one thing that really matters to them: the meaning of life.

"Windhorse" by Moroccan film-maker Daoud Aoulad Syad is a typical example of the highly praised "new Arab auteur film". It's all about individuals, their problems and their experiences. The point of view is a very personal one: The challenges that the central characters face are their own and are not meant to mirror the problems of society.

The "Arab auteur films" are praised by western film critics for not attempting to present an analysis of society. Instead the film-makers are portraying their personal experiences, moving away from global political messages. The movies of the ‘Realism period' in the 90s were different. Successful Directors like the Egyptian Youssef Chahine had made it their task to denounce social injustices and materialism.

Dr Viola Shafik teaches film studies at the American University in Cairo. She says, that the new generation of film-makers however seems to choose to reflect on relationships and personal development: "There is a new generation of filmmakers who maybe are not as much concerned with tradition, and what is specifically Arab, but who rather represent an image of Arab youth, of their needs of their small rebellions."

The choice of topics and the cinematic style of these experimental films have gained wide recognition at the major international film festivals in Berlin, Cannes and Venice. These auteur films are hailed by some critics as the voice of the new and reformed Arab world.

Reflections of what the West would like to see

However, they are only a minor part of what is important in Arab culture says Dr Viola Shafik: "Those films which seem to present Arab culture may rather present a reflection of what the West would like to see of them in contrast to other films which were produced locally and which were very trivial, which are sometimes reactionary, but at the same time reflect what the people need, what they desire."

Many of the Arab auteur movies rely on subsidies from western organisations. It all comes down to money. Films from the Arab world are not as independent and specifically Arab as they could be, says the famous Egyptian actor Mahmoud Hamida:

"There is no proper coordination through the Arab market itself. And if we review the market for instance in Morocco, Egyptian films are not being shown. The market itself is a big mess. So it's easy for any powerful industry to enter the market."

Thus the Arab auteur films are only a small part of the Arab film culture - often they do not reach the audiences in the Arab world. The popular, mainstream Arab movies tend to be more traditional in style. Their most recurrent topic is the gap between poor and rich.

Though these locally produced films seem trivial and may not appeal to Western critics they are a way to discuss ideas within the Arab society, says Dr Viola Shafik:

"In popular films you will find negotiations on women and feminism through films that seem very reactionary. For example, Nadia Ghendi, a famous star, denounced as being very trivial, has specialised in action films and she always is a very strong woman, who combats men by her female guile."

The Arab film world is too diverse and wide-facetted to be reduced into a trend like Arab auteur films. Those who want to see what's really popular with the Arab people should not just watch the critic's choice at Cannes, but also venture out into the cinemas in Egypt, Lebanon or Morocco.

Stefanie Suren


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