Berlinale focuses on Arab struggles

14th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

14 February 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Arab-language films have been in somewhat short supply at this year's Berlin Film Festival. However, Arab characters, struggling to come terms with their sexuality, have played prominent roles in two key movies shown at the Berlinale. Indeed, the personal turmoil of Palestinian actor Yousef "Joe" Sweid's character, Ashraf, in the film The Bubble by Israeli director Eytan Fox, emerges as something of metaphor for tragedy of the seemingly insoluble Middle East conflict. At th

14 February 2007

Berlin (dpa) - Arab-language films have been in somewhat short supply at this year's Berlin Film Festival. However, Arab characters, struggling to come terms with their sexuality, have played prominent roles in two key movies shown at the Berlinale.

Indeed, the personal turmoil of Palestinian actor Yousef "Joe" Sweid's character, Ashraf, in the film The Bubble by Israeli director Eytan Fox, emerges as something of metaphor for tragedy of the seemingly insoluble Middle East conflict.

At the same time, the role played by the north African character in French director Andre Techine's Les Temoins (The Witnesses), helps to mark out the change in sexual mores in western nations following the arrival of the horrific AIDS epidemic during the 1980s.

But apart from a handful of films from Turkey and Malaysia, there have been no films from the Muslim world in the Berlinale's main competition sections.

This is unlike last year when renowned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was awarded a silver bear at the festival for his movie Offside and Marwan Hamed won critical acclaim for The Yacoubian Building, a movie about apartment life in downtown Cairo.

Hamed's controversial film sought to tell the story of modern Egyptian life through tales of corruption, Islamic fundamentalism and homosexuality.

But while the other gay characters in the films shown this year in Berlin from Techine and Evans films tend to be very familiar to western movie audiences, the Arab characters emerge as somehow being caught between two worlds.

This is especially the case with the young Palestinian, Ashraf, who launches into a love affair with a young Israeli man, Noam, following a chance meeting at one of the heavily fortified security checks between Israel and the West Bank.

Despite the deepening love affair with Noam, Ashraf begins to feel ill at ease in the trendy world of Tel Aviv. But on returning to Nablus he senses he does not belong with his well-to-do family and is not comfortable with the city's social and political bearings.

As the film progresses, the scenes from Nablus and Tel Aviv are interspersed faster and faster to underscore the director's view that both cities are part of the Middle East. "The reality is they go together," said Fox.

But even Ashraf's adored sister is completely mystified and angered by his attempt to explain his relationship with Noam.

The sense of confusion ultimately drives him to doom and a tragic end.

But Sweid, himself an Arab-Israeli, insists that The Bubble should be seen as part of the wider context of the Middle East.

"The bigger problem is the politics," said Sweid with the Fox saying that liberal Tel Aviv had become home to a small group of gay Palestinians who like Ashraf in his film were living in the city and attempting to keep off the authorities' radar.

Mehdi in Techine's Les Temoins and played by leading French actor, Sami Bouajila is a very different character who is suddenly forced to confront his true inner desires.

Born in Grenoble, 41-year-old Bouajila has a North African background.

A zealous member of the Paris vice squad and married to a successful young writer, Mehdi falls into a secret and passionate relationship with 20-year-old Manu who has moved to the French capital in search of work.

The darkening spectre of AIDS finally brings the relationship to a terrible end, forcing Mehdi to return to married life.

It is not the first time that Bouajila has played a character having a gay relationship, but he also insists the character has to be seen as part of a broader context.

"I don't really care about the sexuality of the character I play, but what is important is the dimension of the character and what it is really about," Bouajila told a press conference following a screening of Les Temoins in Berlin.

And in a sense, Les Temoins also helps to shed light on minorities in western Europe.

But although Les Temoins shows Mehdi as a well-connected part of French life, Bouajila is sceptical about the degree to which North Africans are really integrated into French society.

"Everything seems possible in France," he said. "But we experience everyday life," he added.

"I can say that is really superficial," he said. "Integration is a very old-fashion idea."

"But a few of us have made it," Bouajila said.

DPA

Subject: German news

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