The 10 Best Arab Films
Fifty years of movie magic, from Tunisia to Iraq, as chosen by Omar al-Qattan, film-maker and chair of Shubbak – A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture.
1. The Night (Al-Lail)
Mohammad Malas, 1993
A great Syrian film. It is about the director's home town of Quneitra, on the borders of the Golan Heights, which was almost completely destroyed by the Israelis after the 1967 war and remains in ruins.
2. The Mummy (Al-Mummia), aka The Night of Counting the Years
Shadi Abdel Salam, 1969
Set in Egypt at the end of the 19th century, it tells of a peasant family living off the illegal trade in pharaonic treasures.
3. Watch out for ZouZou (Khally ballak min ZouZou)
Hassan Al Imam, 1972
It is a comedy of class conflict – Zouzou (Soad Hosny) comes from Cairo's popular quarters but is attending the liberal world of university.
4. The Cruel Sea (Bas-Ya-Bahar)
Khalid Al Siddiq, 1972
Shot in black and white, it evokes the pre-oil days when Kuwait relied almost entirely on the sea, either for trade or for pearl-fishing.
5. Fertile Memory (Al Dhakira al Khasba)
Michel Khleifi, 1980
Fertile Memory is a portrait of two women: one a radical young Palestinian novelist, a divorcée, living with her daughters in the Occupied Territories; the other Khleifi's illiterate aunt, who lost her husband just after the 1948 war.
6. The Dupes (Al-makhdu'un)
Tewfik Saleh, 1973
Set in Iraq, shot in Syria, based on a famous Palestinian novel by Ghassan Kanafani (assassinated by the Israelis in 1972) and directed by an Egyptian, this harrowing film is about a group of Palestinian workmen in the early 50s trying to cross the border illegally from Iraq into Kuwait, to join the oil boom.
7. Man of Ashes (Rih Essed)
Nouri Bouzid, 1986
This powerful film about working-class boys growing up in Tunisia caused a stir because it deals with sexual harassment and homosexuality.
8. The Call of the Nightingale (Doa al-Karawan), aka The Nightingale's Prayer
Henry Barakat, 1960
The heroine, a peasant girl, decides to take revenge on a handsome engineer who has seduced her sister and caused her "honour" killing by her uncle.
9. 12 Angry Lebanese
Zeina Daccache, 2009
The film was partly an attempt to reform the country's criminal and penal laws and improve prison living conditions.
10. Chitchat on the Nile (Thartharah fawq al-Nil) aka Adrift on the Nile
Hussein Kamal, 1971
Based on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz, this film's theme is decadence. It is set on an illicit barge on the Nile where disenchanted government employees meet to get drunk and smoke hashish.