Five Essential Modern Movies From The Middle East

By Gareth Rees
06 November 2018
Middle East, Film
From Divine Intervention to Theeb, take a crash course in regional cinema with these contemporary classics

Since the turn of the century, Middle East cinema has seen a new wave of directors make a name for themselves with hard-hitting films that shine a light on the harsh realities of everyday life in the region. Here we look at five of the best.

1. Wadjda (Haifaa Al Mansour, 2012)

Haifaa al-Mansour’s tale of 10-year-old girl Wadjda’s efforts to obtain the funds to purchase a bicycle so she can race her friend Abdullah, was the first film by a female Saudi Arabian director and the first Saudi Arabian film ever submitted for the Academy Awards. It wasn’t nominated, but it went on the win multiple awards at major international film festivals, including Dubai International Film Festival and Venice Film Festival.

2. Theeb (Naji Abu Nowar, 2014)

British-Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar’s 2014 coming-of-age film Theeb became the first Jordanian film to be nominated for an Oscar when it was included in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 88th Academy Awards. During WW1, young Bedoin orphan Theeb joins his elder brother as he guides a British officer across the desert.

3. The Journey (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2017)

The Journey, Iraqi-Dutch director Mohamed Al-Daradji’s thriller about a female suicide bomber, was released at the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017. In March, it was the first film released in Iraq for 27 years. It is the Iraqi entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 91st Academy Awards.

4. Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, 2002)

Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s work has been compared to the films of Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel, French comedic auteur Jacques Tati and silent, slapstick icon Buster Keaton. His black romantic comedy Divine Intervention was nominated for the Palme d'Or and won the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the at the Cannes Film Festival.

5. City of Life (Ali F Mostafa, 2009)

British-Emirati filmmaker Ali F Mostafa’s 2009 film City of Life, the first Emirati feature film, was born out of his frustration with lazy criticism of Dubai in the international media. “I was tired of people comparing Dubai to a Disneyland,” he says. The film follows three Dubai residents – a young Arab man, an Indian taxi driver and a Romanian ballet dancer turned flight attendant – presenting an authentic picture of Dubai.