×

Oscars: Lebanon, Israel Lead Strong Year for Middle Eastern Entries

Among the Middle East’s 10 submissions, three of which are helmed by women, are several titles that are likely to be competitive in the foreign-language category. These include the Cannes jury prize-winner “Capernaum,” from Lebanon’s helmer-actress Nadine Labaki, and “The Cakemaker” from Israel’s Ofir Raul Grazier. While the lineup includes some films that premiered at major festivals such as Berlin, Venice and Cannes, nearly all of the regional entries, with the exception of the Yemeni title “10 Days Before the Wedding,” have screened in multiple smaller festivals and nabbed several awards.

Labaki’s third feature, “Capernaum,” is the story of an impoverished Beirut boy who launches a lawsuit against his parents for bringing him into the world. It has a lot going for it: It’s a heart-tugging social-issues drama with adorable non-pro child actors, and it plays like, er, a “Slumdog Beirut.” Moreover, the film, due out Stateside in December, has the muscle of boutique arthouse distributor Sony Pictures Classics behind it. Last year, Lebanon scored a nomination for Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult”; odds are that “Capernaum” will make it two in a row.

In certain ways, the tender, delicate drama “The Cakemaker” is an unusual submission from Israel. It views the country and Jewish society through the lens of an outsider thrice-over: a gay, Christian German who travels to Jerusalem to trace the life of his deceased male lover, a closeted married man. It’s a film about loneliness and yearning, filled with sensuous textures and mouth-watering edibles.

While “Capernaum” and “The Cakemaker” represent the region’s best bets for an Oscar nomination, there are a couple of dark- horse titles that might have an outside chance for the short list of nine. Among them is Iranian Vahid Jalilvand’s “No Date, No Signature,” a complex drama about a well-meaning medical examiner haunted by the death of a child. The film’s twists and turns may remind some viewers of the works of Iranian master (and two-time foreign-language Oscar winner) Asghar Farhadi. Meanwhile, “Beauty and the Dogs” from Tunisian helmer Kaouther Ben Hania, about a young woman raped by police officers, definitely speaks to the current #MeToo zeitgeist.

Although less competitive as Oscar fare, the remaining Middle Eastern titles certainly provide strong social issues commentary. Palestine’s entry, “Ghost Hunting” from Raed Andoni, which nabbed the documentary prize at the Berlinale, assembles a group of former Israeli prisoners to re-create the circumstances of their incarceration. Iraq’s “The Journey,” from Mohamed Jabarah Al-Daradji, explores the mind of a would-be suicide bomber. Morocco’s “Burnout,” from Nour-Eddine Lakhmari, looks at the seamy side of Casablanca society. And Egypt’s road movie, “Yomeddine,” from A.B. Shawky, follows a former leper as he crosses the country looking for long-lost relatives.

Love and death are near neighbors in Algeria’s “Until the End of Time,” from Yasmine Chouikh, in which an elderly gravedigger and a widow meet in a cemetery and develop feelings for one another. So are they too in “10 Days Before the Wedding,” Amr Gamal’s Aden-set drama about a couple struggling to tie the knot in the middle of Yemen’s civil war.

More Film

  • BOTM-Eve-Viper-Gang

    Director Angus Gibson: My Audience is ‘Young, Black South Africans’

    DURBAN–Sophiatown, 1958. On the outskirts of Johannesburg, as the apartheid police prepare to demolish the community at the heart of black South African cultural and intellectual life, a notorious gang leader is determined to make a last stand. Resisting the forced evictions that will transport the residents of Sophiatown to a desolate township miles away, [...]

  • marvel

    Marvel Phase 4 Plan Revealed, But Comic-Con’s Big Winner is Disney Plus

    In a triumphant return to the San Diego Comic-Con main stage, leadership at Marvel Studios managed some splashy surprises and showed off risky creative bets for the next two years of content coming from the superhero operation. But the biggest takeaway from the Saturday presentation inside Hall H was how important Marvel will make Disney [...]

  • Florence Pugh, O. T. Fagbenle, Rachel

    'Black Widow': Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh Go Head-to-Head in First Footage

    Marvel’s “Black Widow” has only been in production for a month, but studio president Kevin Feige still delivered the goods for fans at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Filmmakers brought an intense sizzle reel of on-location shots, kicked off by a dazzling and bone-crushing fight sequence between lead Scarlett Johansson and her on-screen sister Florence [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor

    Natalie Portman Returns for 'Thor: Love and Thunder' as Female Thor

    Natalie Portman is coming back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she’s no one’s love interest this time around. The Oscar winner will play a female god of thunder in the fourth film from the Chris Hemsworth series, titled “Thor: Love and Thunder.” Portman hit the stage at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday to great [...]

  • Fantastic Four

    New 'Fantastic Four' Movie in Development at Marvel

    Marvel is going back to the Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced that a new movie based on the superhero group is in the works at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Further details, however, including a release date, were not revealed. It marks the first Fox property for Disney to mine since the [...]

  • Mahershala AliMarvel Studios panel, Comic-Con International,

    Mahershala Ali to Star in Marvel's 'Blade' Reboot

    Marvel is rebooting the “Blade” series, and has cast Mahershala Ali to star. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced the news at Comic-Con on Saturday as the panel’s big ending surprise. Ali also took the stage at the announcement to massive applause, donning the Blade baseball cap. Wesley Snipes previously played the half-vampire superhero in [...]

  • Doctor Strange

    'Doctor Strange' Sequel Billed as First MCU Horror Film at Comic-Con

    A sequel to “Doctor Strange” was announced as expected on Saturday at Marvel’s Comic-Con panel — what we didn’t see coming was the tone. Director Scott Derrickson said the film, titled “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” will mine the original comics and play up “the gothic, the horror.” Derrickson said it will lead [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content