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16. – 20. March is at the Vika cinema in Oslo the screen for the twelfth edition of Arab movie days. As the name suggests, this offshoot of the Film from the South festival only shows films from and about the Arab part of the world. The program includes both an exciting selection of feature films and several strong documentaries. Here we highlight two feature films that both address current, political and social issues. The final festival program will be released on March 2.
Oppression of women in the West Bank
Huda's Salon is written and directed by the Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, who has been nominated for an Oscar twice: first in 2006 for Paradise now and then for Omar in 2013. His new film is a political thriller set in Bethlehem in the Israeli occupation West Bank, and should be inspired by real events. Here we meet the main character Reem in the hair salon that gave the film its title, in a cinematically impressive sequence in one unbroken shot where she talks candidly with the owner Huda, who obviously knows her well, while the latter does her hair.
The scene takes an abrupt and unpleasant turn when Huda puts something in Reem's coffee, who almost immediately loses consciousness. When Reem wakes up again, compromising photos have been taken of her – and with these the Palestinian woman is pressured to give information to the occupying power's secret service. A little later, Huda, who has done the same to a number of women, is captured by the Palestinian resistance movement. After this, the action alternates between the interrogations with her and Reem, who finds herself in an increasingly vulnerable and desperate situation.
This is an intense and effectively told suspense film that can partly be categorized as a spy thriller. Filmmaker Abu-Assad, however, uses the genre format to discuss political and social conditions. "It's easier to occupy a society that already oppresses itself," says a line that may not be too far from the film's message.
"It is easier to occupy a society that is already oppressing itself."
Huda's Salon depicts a society at war, and some of the challenges and dilemmas this entails for the occupied population. In addition, a gradually more nuanced picture is drawn of the motivations of the various characters, and the Palestinian rebels are not portrayed in any particularly positive light either. First and foremost, Abu-Assad will direct a feminist spotlight on the oppression of women in it Palestinian society. In the film, the social control of women largely facilitates the blackmail, so that it is almost inevitable for the main character Reem to end up in disgrace – whether as an informant for the enemy or as a woman who has broken her obligations as a wife.
Environmental political family drama
Costa Brava, Lebanon is far less of a genre film. This particular one Lebanesee film by feature film debutant Mounia Akl is both realistic and fable-like, with elements of magical realism. Here it is about the Badri family, consisting of mother, father, grandmother and two children, who have lived organically and self-sufficiently in a lush mountain landscape after they decided to leave Beirut eight years ago. The reason they moved was not least the city's pollution, littering and corruption, which ironically haunts them as the area surrounding their house is to be used as a rubbish dump. The family is assured that this will be carried out in an environmentally friendly way, which they do not believe for a moment – and rightly so, it turns out.
The film makes use of fairly clear metaphors, while also directly touching on several inflamed political themes from today's Lebanon. As can be seen, it is not least about the country's extensive waste crisis. At its core is Costa Brava, Lebanon however, a family drama, which delicately portrays how the change in the life situation affects the various family members – children as well as adults. The role of the mother is also played by Nadine Labaki, who herself directed the Oscar nominee Kapernaum from 2018.
The family has lived organically and self-sufficiently in a lush mountain landscape.
Appropriate enough for what it is about, is Costa Brava, Lebanon allegedly produced as environmentally friendly as possible according to the so-called green protocol. The film is also supported by the Norwegian Sørfond, with the company Barentsfilm as Norwegian co-producer.