×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Middle East Hopes to Pull Off Another Oscar Win

With last year’s winner, Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman,” hailing from Iran, Oscar handicappers should be sure to give the Middle Eastern titles close scrutiny this time around. Among the region’s 11 submissions are several films likely to be highly competitive in the foreign-language category. These include the 2017 Venice prize winners “Foxtrot,” from Israel, helmed by Samuel Maoz (“Lebanon”) and “The Insult,” from Lebanon, directed by Ziad Doueiri, whose first feature “West Beirut” was also a Lebanese submission.

The lineup also includes a rare title from Syria, the documentary “Little Gandhi” about Syrian peace activist Ghiyath Matar. Another title with an unusual pedigree is Afghanistan’s “A Letter to the President,” a rough-edged feminist drama about a female Kabul police chief, helmed by Roya Sadat, the country’s first distaff director to emerge in the post-Taliban era.

Could this finally be Israel’s year? The country has submitted films for the foreign-language Oscar since 1964, receiving 10 nominations, but has never brought home the little golden man. The daring, intelligently devised “Foxtrot” represents a strong candidate. Both specific and universal — and not without humor — it boldly tackles fate, coincidence, guilt and grieving, the Holocaust and the Israeli Defense Forces, with a father-son story told in three sequences.
Variety reviewer Jay Weissberg wrote, “Brilliantly constructed with a visual audacity that serves the subject rather than the other way around, this is award-winning filmmaking on a fearless level.”

The Insult” is also both universal and specific: a trivial contretemps between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian construction worker escalates into a tense, highly publicized trial that ends up further dividing Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim populations. As the disputants take their struggle for dignity and justice into the courtroom, their respective attorneys rake through traumatic incidents from their clients’ past and unleash every trick in their repertoire. Helmer Doueiri deftly and even-handedly delves into his country’s contentious past while subtly commenting on positive and negative aspects of male pride.

While “Foxtrot” and “The Insult” represent the region’s best bets for an Oscar nomination, there are several dark horse titles that could nab a spot on the shortlist of nine. Chief among them: “Wajib” from Palestine, helmed by Annemarie Jacir, whose previous films “Salt of This Sea” and “When I Saw You” were also Palestinian submissions. Her latest is a wry dramedy that follows a divorced father and his visiting architect son as they hand-deliver wedding invitations in Nazareth. With the charismatic, richly nuanced playing of real-life father and son Mohammed and Saleh Bakri as the leads, Jacir’s wise screenplay subtly brings out differences in generational attitudes and contradictions in outlook between those who leave the Territory and those who remain.

Of course, one should never rule out Algeria’s three-time foreign-language Oscar nominee, French-born Rachid Bouchareb (“Dust of Life,” “Days of Glory,” “Outside the Law”). His latest, the highly topical “Road to Istanbul,” centers on a Belgian mother searching for her Muslim- convert daughter who has left to join ISIS in Syria.

Iraq’s “Reseba — The Dark Wind” addresses another torn-from-the-headlines subject: helmer Hussein Hassan sensitively tells the story of a kidnapped Kurdish Yazidi woman sold into slavery by ISIS. Made in collaboration with the Yazidi community and shot in refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, the film treats explosive subject matter in a quietly authentic, non-exploitive fashion.

This year, the prospects of the Maghreb countries are not so strong. The Egyptian submission “Sheikh Jackson” is a low-key character study about a troubled young cleric’s obsession with pop singer Michael Jackson.

Morocco, meanwhile, fields “Razzia,” a perhaps overly kaleidoscopic social drama from director Nabil Ayouch, whose previous efforts “Mektoub,” “Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets,” and “Horses of God” were also Moroccan submissions. Although Tunisia’s “The Last of Us,” directed by Ala Eddine Slim can boast its 2016 Venice fest Lion of the Future kudo, the dialogue-free treatment of migration from Africa is far more experimental in execution than standard Academy fare.
And what has Iran mustered to follow up on Farhadi’s win?

For the first time, the Islamic Republic tenders a film from a female helmer: Narges Abyar’s “Breath.” It’s a touching anti-war drama that follows a poor family during the Islamic Revolution and the first years of the Iran-Iraq war, but lacks the cinematic sophistication of arthouse master Farhadi.

More Film

  • Josh Brolin, Kathryn Boyd. Josh Brolin,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Josh Brolin: Thanos' Butt Is a 'Beautiful, Purple Peach'

    On the eve of “Avengers: Endgame’s” world premiere, everyone’s thoughts have turned to the one crucial detail that could be the difference between life or death for the Avengers: Does Thanos have a butt? “I don’t know what that whole thing is about! I really don’t!” Josh Brolin, who plays Thanos, told Variety‘s Marc Malkin [...]

  • Tessa Thompson'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Tessa Thompson Says Valkyrie Would Spoon Captain Marvel, Thor

    Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and upcoming “Avengers: Endgame,” had no problem addressing speculation about the character’s sexuality at the “Endgame” red carpet premiere Monday. The “Sorry to Bother You” actress explained that she played her Marvel character as bisexual. “In the canon, [Valkyrie] is bisexual. You see her with [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    Writers Guild Says Over 7,000 Members Have Fired Agents

    Over 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America have fired their talent agents, the Hollywood union said on Monday. As promised, the guild delivered a first round of termination letters to agents in a show of support for the WGA’s full-on war with the Association of Talent Agents. “Today the Guild delivered a first [...]

  • BRAZILIAN FLAGFRENCH OPEN TENNIS, PARIS, FRANCE

    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, [...]

  • David Leitch Kelly McCormick

    'Hobbs & Shaw' Director David Leitch, Kelly McCormick Sign First-Look Deal With Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Universal Pictures is signing David Leitch, his longtime producing partner, Kelly McCormick and their recently founded 87North Production banner to a first-look production deal. “David and Kelly have established themselves as a distinctive, stylish filmmaking team who can do it all, from contained thrillers to franchise tentpoles,” said Universal’s president Peter Cramer. “We are confident [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content