×

Director Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan on Shooting ‘Last Visit’ in Saudi Arabia With a Mostly Female Crew

When young Saudi Arabian director Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan set out to make his debut feature “Last Visit” filmmaking and movie theaters were still banned in his country.

That changed suddenly in late 2017 when Saudi’s 35-year-old religion-related ban was lifted as part of social and economic reforms. So the director and his producer immediately turned in their screenplay to authorities and applied for a shooting permit, which they got despite the fact that their father-and-son drama depicting generational conflict pushes boundaries in several ways.

Thematically “Last Visit” exposes “masculine culture and patriarchy as I know it,” says Aldhabaan, adding that the 16-year-old son in his film who is named Walid (played by Abdullah Al-Fahad) simply can’t relate to Saudi Arabia’s conservative traditions.

“With kids his age in Saudi today, it’s not even a matter of revolting against the past,” he says. “They actually just don’t understand it.”  

Walid and his father Nasser (played by Osama Alqess) travel from a big modern city to a rural village where Nasser’s own father is on his deathbed in the home of his uncle and two male cousins. There Walid refuses to adhere to prayer and other conservative customs, isolating himself from the other men in his family by wearing a huge set of wireless headphones.

Popular on Variety

Though you practically see only men on screen throughout the whole film, “the majority of the crew were women,” the director notes, adding that when they shot outdoors the presence of these women, some of whom did not wear headscarves, “was problematic.”

At first “people were upset, and the town revolted on social media with posts such as: ‘these people are coming to our town, and they are making cinema, which is dangerous!’,” says producer Mohammed Alhamoud.

Having a regular shooting permit really saved them. “Without it we never would have finished the movie,” he notes. “We had a lot of outdoor scenes and we didn’t want people to harass us.” That fear soon subsided, though, to the point that by the end of the shoot some of the people who had complained had become extras.

Aldhabaan’s “Last Visit” journey started with his becoming an ardent cinephile by watching movies on VHS and DVD that he selected largely thanks to an online forum through which he learned “about Bergman and Scorsese.” Then in 2006 he started working as a film critic and reporter, catching his films in nearby Bahrain. In 2008 with Alhamoud and others Aldhabaan co-founded the Riyadh-based Talashi Film Group, a collective of film buffs.

“Last Visit,” which launched from the Karlovy Vary fest and is now competing in Marrakech, is likely to get Middle East distribution though it’s still not certain whether and when it will play in Saudi.

“Before we produced the film it passed censorship, but we have not yet submitted the finished product,” says Alhamoud.

 

More Film

  • Mika Ronkainen and Merja Aakko

    ‘All the Sins’ Producers to Broaden Spanish-Language Ties (EXCLUSIVE)

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden: “All the Sins”’ Finnish co-writers and creators Mika Ronkainen and Merja Aakko, winners of last year’s Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize for outstanding Nordic screenplay, are developing for MRK Matila Röhr Productions an adoption drama set between Finland and Guatemala. Based on a true story, the six-part series “Act of Telling” (a [...]

  • A still from Vivos by Ai

    'Vivos': Film Review

    To the individual enduring it, sorrow seems a lonely, defenseless emotion, one from which others are too quick to look away. Shared and felt en masse, however, it can become something different: a galvanizing force, a wall, not diminished in pain but not diminished by it either. Ai Weiwei’s stirring new documentary “Vivos” runs on [...]

  • Jumbo

    'Jumbo': Film Review

    Tall, dark and handsome? The crush that Noémie Merlant’s character, Jeanne, explores in “Jumbo” is one out of three: a 25-foot-tall carnival ride who seduces the amusement park janitor as she spit-cleans his bulbs. During the night shift, Jumbo literally lights up Jeanne’s life, and while he’s not handsome in the traditional sense — especially [...]

  • Ironbark

    'Ironbark': Film Review

    Movie spies typically fall into one of two categories. There are the butterflies — flamboyant secret agents like James Bond or “Atomic Blonde” who behave as conspicuously as possible. And then there are the moth-like kind, who do their best to blend in. The character Benedict Cumberbatch plays in “Ironbark” belongs to the latter variety, [...]

  • Miss Juneteenth review

    'Miss Juneteenth': Film Review

    “Miss Juneteenth” richly captures the slow pace of ebbing small-town Texas life, even if you might wish there were a bit more narrative momentum to pick up the slack in writer-director Channing Godfrey Peoples’ first feature. She’s got a very relatable heroine in Nicole Beharie’s Turquoise, an erstwhile local beauty queen whose crown proved the [...]

  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always

    'Never Rarely Sometimes Always': Film Review

    The basic plot of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is easy enough to describe. A 17-year-old girl named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) winds up pregnant in a small Pennsylvania town. Prevented from seeking an abortion by the state’s parental consent laws, she takes off for New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), where what they’d [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content