Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Every Arab movie Oscar-nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film

In the award's competitive history, only one winner has come from the Arab world

Jacir Eid in 'Theeb'. Photo by Laith Al-Majali
Jacir Eid in 'Theeb'. Photo by Laith Al-Majali

Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum has broken new ground for Arab female filmmakers with its Oscars nod for Best Foreign Language Film. But in doing so, it has also entered into a rather exclusive club of films from the Arab world to have shared the honour.

The Arabsphere has been producing films for more than a century, culminating in the golden age of Egyptian cinema in the 1950s.

Countries such as Algeria and Morocco weighed in shortly after with their own cinematic offerings, and, in recent years, films from the likes of ­Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon have proven themselves on the world stage.

But despite their regional domination of film production, and being the first Arab Nation to, unsuccessfully, submit a film for consideration with 1959’s Cairo Station, Egypt has never has a film nominated in the shortlist for the best foreign film Oscar category. In fact, in the 63 years of the award’s competitive history, just 10 films from the Arab world before Capernaum had ever been up for the honour – and only one succeeded in winning it.

Here’s a look at each of the films that blazed a trail before Capernaum, from 1969 to 2017.

1. 'Z' (Algeria, 1970)

An Algerian and French production, directed by Costa-Gavras from Greece, Z is not wholly an Arab film, but it was entered as a submission from Algeria, and it’s the only Arab film to have ever won the category. At the 42nd Academy Awards, Z became the first movie nominated for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture. It’s about the assassination of a Greek politician – with a fictionalised and satirical eye. Its editor, Francoise Bonnot, also picked up an Oscar.

2. 'Le Bal' (Algeria, 1984)

This was another joint Algerian and European production, and was this time produced with help from France and Italy. Le Bal is a dance film without dialogue, made in 1983, and directed by Italian director Ettore Scola. The film is a visual feast; chronicling 50 years of French socio-cultural history, by following the comings and goings in a French ballroom. The film was nominated at the 56th Academy Awards, but lost to Sweden’s entry, Fanny and Alexander, by Ingmar Bergman.

3. 'Dust of Life' (Algeria, 1995)

The third successive Algerian film to pick up a Best Foreign Language Film nomination was the first directed by an Arab filmmaker. Director Rachid Bouchareb is also the most-nominated Arab director in history, with three nods across the board. Dust of Life tackles a foreign subject, however – exploring the re-education camps in Vietnam after the withdrawal of US forces. Through Arab eyes, Rachid Bouchareb tries to understand and convey the Vietnamese struggle after being ravaged by war. It eventually lost the Oscar to the Antonia’s Line from the Netherlands.

4. 'Paradise Now' (Palestine, 2006)

The Arab world had to wait until 2005 to see a film made by Arabs, about Arabs to be nominated. Paradise Now is a Palestinian film by Hany Abu-Assad, about two childhood friends who are recruited for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The movie was praised for its raw emotion and an attempt to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people. It propelled the film’s main star, Arab-Israeli actor Ali Suliman, into the Hollywood mainstream; he’s recently worked with John Krasinski in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series. Paradise Now lost to South Africa’s Tsotsi.

5. 'Days of Glory' (Algeria, 2006)

For the first time in Oscars history, an Arab film was nominated for the second consecutive year in 2007. Rachid Bouchareb received his second Best Foreign Film nod with the Second World War film Days of Glory. It tells the story of a band of Algerian soldiers who fought for France against Nazi Germany, and boasts a cast of Algerian legends, including Samy Naceri of Taxi fame, Jamal Debbouze and Roschdy Zem. The film was lauded for celebrating the contributions of Algerian soldiers who fought in the war. Days of Glory ironically lost the Oscar to Germany’s The Lives of Others.

6. 'Outside the Law' (Algeria, 2010)

Rachid Bouchareb scores a hat-trick with his third nomination in the category. Outside the Law tells the story of the Algerian resistance who fought against the French for independence after the Second World War. Jamal Debbouze and Roschdy Zem once again teamed up with Bouchareb for the project, starring as members of the resistance. The film was an early favourite, but the Danish film In a Better World took the Oscar.

7. 'Omar' (Palestine, 2013)

Hany Abu-Assad’s second nomination, Omar, tells the story of a young Palestinian freedom fighter who is forced to work as an informant. At its heart, Omar is a love story in the midst of chaos. Adam Bakri stars as the titular Omar, and Leem Lubany as love interest Nadia. The film displays the day to day struggles of people living in the West Bank, all the while showing their struggle to survive. Omar spearheaded a three-year streak of Arab nominations in the Foreign Language category, although it lost to Italy’s The Great Beauty.

8. 'Timbuktu' (Mauritania, 2014)

Made by veteran African filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, Timbuktu is about a cattle herder and his family whose lives are disrupted by the arrival of jihadists. It might be considered a stretch to label this an Arab film, but considering Mauritania is in the Arab Nations League, we’re going to claim it. Shot beautifully by Sofian El Fani (the cinematographer from Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour), the movie was also a triumph in acting talent. Nonetheless, Timbuktu lost the coveted prize to Poland’s Ida.

9. 'Theeb' (Jordan, 2015)

Production on the Bedouin film Theeb was partially funded by Abu Dhabi’s Sanad Fund. The film debuted at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2014, and received a standing ovation. Theeb tells the story of a young Bedouin boy who ventures with his brother and a British soldier into the desert. The film was likened to David Lean’s desert epic Lawrence of Arabia for portraying the beautiful landscapes in a similar vein as the 1962 classic. Theeb lost the Oscar to Hungary’s Son of Saul.

10. 'The Insult' (Lebanon, 2017)

Directed by Ziad Doueiri and starring Lebanese stand-up comedian and TV show host Adel Karam, The Insult is a dramatic look at the relationships between Lebanese-Christians and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The film is a landmark for that country’s cinema, as it was the first Lebanese film to be nominated in this category. The Insult lost to Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman – Iran’s entry. But just one year later, Capernaum has taken up the mantle from its countrymen.

Updated: February 24, 2019 01:45 PM

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