×

A New Day in Old Sana’a

British Yemeni documaker Bader Ben Hirsi spins a pleasant if gossamer Arabian fable in "A New Day in Old Sana'a," advertised as the first feature film to come out of Yemen. Constraints imposed by the country's hyper-conservative government are pretty obvious in the inoffensive story of a young blueblood torn between love and tradition.

With:
Ines - Dania Hammoud Bilquis - Redha Khoder Federico - Paolo Romano Tariq - Nabil Saber

British Yemeni documaker Bader Ben Hirsi (“9/11–Through Saudi Eyes”) spins a pleasant if gossamer Arabian fable in “A New Day in Old Sana’a,” advertised as the first feature film to come out of Yemen. Constraints imposed by the country’s hyper-conservative government are pretty obvious in the inoffensive story of a young blueblood torn between love and tradition; the only surprise is the abundance of veiled and unveiled women. But the glimpses afforded of Old Sana’a are a Lonely Planet addict’s dream, and festival coverage could well segue into a limited arthouse run.

Proving its audience appeal in the Mideast, pic won the Arab Film prize at its Cairo Film Festival debut.

The ancient city of cobbled streets and soaring stone towers provides a striking backdrop to this highly concocted tale, which is made even more exotic by being seen through the eyes of a Western photographer, Federico (Paolo Romano). This Italian who speaks perfect British English is drawn into the problems of his local assistant Tariq (Nabil Saber), who is set to wed the most beautiful girl in Sana’a, Bilquis (Redha Khoder).

Though Tariq has never laid eyes on his bride-to-be, he believes he sees her dancing through the streets one night in a billowy white dress he has given her as a present. In reality, the dancer is Ines (Dania Hammoud), a poor orphan with a crush on Tariq.

As a simple story about a stolen dress unfolds, Ben Hirsi deftly juggles the broad comedy of village gossip spread by the egg peddler Amal (Sahar Alasbahi), with the more serious melody of Tariq’s broken heart when he discovers it’s Ines he loves, not Bilquis.

Federico jerks the viewer back to reality with rather unnecessary comparisons of Yemeni society with the West and by needlessly spelling out the question of whether young people like Tariq really have options.

As Federico points out several times, it is strictly taboo to look at, much less photograph, women. Yet curiously, women are the film’s real focus, and Ben Hirsi involves the viewer in his voyeuristic pursuit of them inside and outside their homes.

Both leads Khoder and Hammoud look ravishing under their veils. A scene in which Ines, a henna artist, is called to Federico’s hotel room to adorn his broad shoulders and naked back with her art, while Tariq looks on, is loaded with unexpressed sexual innuendo. But this is clearly as far as a film shot on location can go. The story’s romantic, fairy-tale conclusion pales beside the subtle social and personal issues it raises.

The cast of professional actors offers broad, stage-like perfs skimming the surface of their characters. More penetrating is the textured Super-16 photography of Lebanese cinematographer Muriel Aboulrouss, which captures the sleepy, deserted city from all angles. Producer Ahmed Abdali contributes a dramatic, epic score.

A New Day in Old Sana'a

U.K.

Production: A Felix Films Entertainment production in association with Yemen Media Center Pictures. Produced by Ahmed Abdali. Directed, written by Bader Ben Hirsi.

Crew: Camera (color, Super 16mm), Muriel Aboulrouss; music, Ahmed Abdali; production designer, Tim Keates; sound, Grainge Lee; line producer, Sarah Campbell; associate producers, Dick and Rosemary Brinkhurst. Reviewed at Dubai Film Festival (Dubai Discoveries), Dec. 16, 2005. (Also in Cairo Film Festival.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With: Ines - Dania Hammoud Bilquis - Redha Khoder Federico - Paolo Romano Tariq - Nabil SaberWith: Sahar Alasbahi, Amal Ismail. (Arabic, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Gary Hustwit Bob Greenberg, Toshiko MoriBob

    Why 'Rams' Director Gary Hustwit Doesn't Want Studios to Buy His Films

    Most filmmakers dream of scoring a big studio deal, but not Gary Hustwit. The “Helvetica” director applies a “do it yourself” model to the release of his movies. “Rams,” his recent documentary about German industrial designer Dieter Rams, is Hustwit’s latest venture into self-distribution. “I don’t want to be paying someone else’s overhead,” said Hustwit. [...]

  • Ventana Sur: Overview of 2018’s PCI

    Ventana Sur: PCI Showcases the Diversity of Argentine Cinema

    BUENOS AIRES — Mario Vargas Llosa, the great Peruvian novelist, once wrote that reality in Latin America is too compelling to ever be ignored in its fiction. Yet, as WWII raged, Jorge Luis Borges, perhaps the greatest of Argentine writers, pointedly published “Ficciones,” fantasy tales, often philosophical speculation given narrative form. If this year’s PCI [...]

  • Moroccan director Meryem Benm'Barekposes during the

    Young French Cinema Program to Showcase 12 New Films in the U.S.

    Clément Cogitore’s “Braguino,” Meryem Benm’Barek’s (pictured) “Sofia” and Marie Losier’s “Cassandro the Exotico!” are among the 12 recent French movies which will play as part of the Young French Cinema Program organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S. and UniFrance. “Braguino” is a documentary feature about two feuding families living [...]

  • Woolsey Fire Malibu

    Many Malibu Areas Still Off-Limits for Filming After Fire

    The California Film Commission has maintained its ban on filming in several Malibu areas hit by the massive Woolsey fire in Southern California last month. The commission announced Tuesday that due to continued clean-up and repair work along Pacific Coast Highway, permits for filming on the highway are not being issued at this time. PCH [...]

  • Against the Clock

    Film News Roundup: Andy Garcia's Spy Thriller 'Against the Clock' Bought by Gravitas

    In today’s film news roundup, Andy Garcia’s spy thriller is sold, “Battlestar Galactica” gets a screenwriter, and Brooklyn Decker gets an award. ACQUISITION Gravitas Ventures has acquired North American rights to spy thriller “Against the Clock,” starring Andy Garcia, Dianna Agron (“Glee”), and Justin Bartha, Variety has learned exclusively. More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The [...]

  • 'Pacific Rim Uprising' film premiere

    John Boyega in Talks to Star in Legal Drama 'A Naked Singularity'

    “Star Wars” actor John Boyega is in talks to star in the legal drama “A Naked Singularity” with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions on board to produce. The movie is based on Sergio De La Pava’s debut novel, which centers on a successful New York public defender whose life begins to unravel after he loses [...]

  • Penny Marshall Dead Obit

    Remembering Penny Marshall, Who Forged Her Own Path and Paved the Way for Others

    She was a natural comedian — fearless and funny, willing to trade on her natural Bronx brogue to craft a sassy and street-wise character that was tailor-made for sitcoms. But Penny Marshall, who died Monday night at the age of 75, proved throughout her long career that she had so much more in the way [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content