Arab Films Not To Miss At Cannes Film Festival

BY Delara Zand / May 14 2019 / 01:08 AM

Here’s how the region is represented at this year’s star-studded celebration of sublime cinema...

Arab Films Not To Miss At Cannes Film Festival

As the film industry’s most prestigious festival kicks off today in the South of France for an eleven-day appreciation of global cinema, there’s a whole lot to look forward to - and not just a healthy dose of Côte d'Azur glitz and glam.

Palais des Festivals will see 57 brand-new feature films make their debut. Amongst the Palme d'Or nominees are Dexter Fletcher's Elton John biopic Rocketman, prolific Spanish master Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory and Ira Sachs' family drama Frankie, starring Cannes' reigning monarch, Isabelle HupertQuentin Tarantino elevates the profile of the entire festival with hotly anticipated Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, but he'll have tough competition in two-time Palme d'Or winner (not to mention three-time Jury Prize winner) Ken Loach with his drama Sorry We Missed You. Closer to home, 2019 will mark the return of Cannes veteran and past Jury Prize winner Elia Suleiman, debut feature films from three female Arab directors and the Un Certain Regard Jury's first Arab president: the illustrious Nadine Labaki. Here are the films worth keeping an eye out for...

It Must Be Heaven 

This film from eminent Palestinian director Elia Suleiman follows a traveller (sharing the director's ‘E.S.’ initials) who journeys from his native Palestine to the West. He seeks the familiar feeling of home in cities like Paris and New York, but can’t seem to shake the sense that home will always be the land he left behind. It's the tale of one man's fight to integrate and escape his origins, but also delves into a more universal narrative, examining questions of belonging and identity and exploring the tragedy of displacement. Suleiman's signature style that blends humour with sombre subject matter makes the movie a captivating watch and a serious contender for the Palme d’Or.  


Tangier-born Maryam Touzani’s film is the story of a chance encounter between two women in the Casablanca medina: Samia, a pregnant young woman, and Abla, a widow struggling to make ends meet and to care for her eight-year-old-daughter. Anticipating the birth of her child, Samia seeks refuge at Abla's house in a meeting that changes the course of their lives and takes them each on an inner journey, allowing them both to ultimately experience a sort of rebirth and rediscover a zest for life. Having started out as a journalist and film critic, Touzani is known for her documentaries on women in her native Morocco, and  Adam marks her first full-length feature film. The picture has been selected in the Un Certain Regard category - one to watch, since its jury will be presided over by Capernaum director Nadine Labaki.


This drama film, also nominated in the Un Certain Regard category, tells of the ingenuity of a young university student with a passion for fashion amidst the hardship of Civil War-era Algeria. With the war's tragedies omnipresent in everyday life, free-spirited and vivacious student Nedjma decides to stage an uplifting fashion show. Algerian filmmaker Mounia Meddour has directed five documentaries in the past, and her 2011 debut short film Edwige was selected for the Dubai International Film Festival, the Gulf Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. Papicha is her first full-length feature film.

For Sama 

Moving documentary For Sama has already won big at this season's South by Southwest Film Festival and will receive a special screening at Cannes. The unflinching, first-person footage chronicles the extraordinary true story of one of its directors, Waad Al Kateab, a woman and doting mother navigating the challenges, suffering and hope in Aleppo's daily life. The film centres around the heart-wrenching question of whether Al Kateab should flee the city and protect her daughter, to whom the whole film is addressed. Both Al Kateab and her co-director, British TV docmaker Edward Watts, are Emmy Award winners and Cannes Film Festival will act as the film's European premiere. 

The Unknown Saint

To be screened as part of the 58th International Critics’ Week, which runs parallel to the official selection, Moroccan director Alaa Eddine Aljem’s black comedy follows a young thief. Set against the evocative backdrop of the desert, the young man buries his stolen money and disguises it as a tomb, whilst on the run from the police. A decade on, only just released from prison, he goes in search of his loot, but finds that an unexpected construction has cropped up on the site of his makeshift tomb. Getting his hands on the money will now prove more difficult than he had hoped, and turns out to be an endeavour extending far beyond him and his buried stash. 

Tu Mérites un Amour 

Tunisian-Algerian actress Hafsia Herzi makes her first foray into directing with Tu Mérites un Amour. Screened as part of International Critics' Week, the film deals with the break-up of a young couple, Remi and Lila, and explores its enduring effects on them once they've parted ways, ultimately testifying to the relentless nature of their love. Not only does Herzi feature in this film as the protagonist, Lila, but she also makes a return to Abdellatif Kechiche’s films, starring in his 2019 Cannes offering, Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo. Kechiche's film is a competitior in the Palme d'Or category, and Herzi's role follows her award-winning performance in Kechiche's 2007 Jury Prize-winning picture, The Secret of the Grain.