Films from the Middle East
December 9, 2009 2:59 AM   Subscribe

Recommend for me some great films from the Middle East.

I was having a discussion with some friends the other night about movies, and felt pretty silly for not being able to name one movie from the Middle East. The closest I came was At Five in the Afternoon. I'm really disappointed with my ignorance on the subject, and would like you to recommend some titles for me. Doesn't matter what genre, really. Just fire away.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Message by Moustapha Akkad and The Lion of the Desert.
posted by BinGregory at 3:30 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: There's Midaq Alley from Naguib Mahfouz's book. Haven't seen that one so I can't recommend it.
posted by BinGregory at 3:34 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: How about:

Paradise Now
Waltz with Bashir

and generally films by this gentleman:
A time for drunken horses
A Taste of Cherry
posted by noztran at 4:16 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: The Circle is recommended, but that's also Iranian/Persian

Paradise Now gets under the skin of a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv.
posted by gijsvs at 4:17 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: Google will give you numerous award winning films coming out of Iran, Turkey, and surely Israel. I doubt you'll get the same level from the gulf states. Oh, movie theaters are actually illegal in Saudi Arabia, but they still make some movies.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:58 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: The Color of Paradise by Iranian director Majid Majidi is gorgeous, poetic and has a great, simple heart. Haven't seen Children of Heaven or Baran yet but the reviews are similarly stellar.

Paradise Now is very good. The martyr preparation scenes are incredibly gripping.
posted by mediareport at 4:59 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: Jafar Panahi's work is worth checking out. I've enjoyed White Balloon and Offside. (gijsvs cited The Circle, which I haven't seen yet).
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:02 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: A Time for Drunken Horses (which I've not seen) was actually directed by this gentleman, Bahman Ghobadi, who also directed Turtles Can Fly, which I have seen, and which I found to be incredibly mesmerizing and powerful.
posted by drlith at 5:15 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: The Syrian Bride is a powerful film that I enjoyed watching.
posted by carabiner at 5:42 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: Classic or modern? I have a couple of classic Turkish suggestions.

Susuz Yaz [Dry Summer], directed by Metin Erksan, is available for free on the internet, and is this sort of critical Marxist realist piece from 1964 about a tobacco farmer who wants to keep all the water in the village for himself.

I've also heard you can't go wrong with the films of Yılmaz Güney.

Personally I've only seen his Yol [The Road], which follows the stories of a group of prisoners on home leave in Turkey in the wake of the 1980 coup. It's very beautifully shot, but a tear-jerker.
posted by besonders at 6:50 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One way to find outstanding films from a certain non-English speaking country is to look at what films that country has submitted to be considered for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Wikipedia has lists of them by country and by year.
posted by Xalf at 6:59 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two of my favorites are both Iranian: Offside, about a group of female football fans trying to sneak into the match between Iran and Bahrain, and Secret Ballot, about a female voting agent traveling with a ballot box to encourage voter turnout on a small island.
posted by autopilot at 7:10 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Israeli: Walk on Water, The Band's Visit, $9.99 (though it's set in Australia, it's based off of Israeli writer Etgar Keret's novella)

Iranian: Offside, Crimson Gold

Not sure if it counts as Middle Eastern, but Turkey has a well-known film industry and has produced reimaginings of Star Wars, Spider Man, ET, etc.
posted by now i'm piste at 7:15 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: If Israel counts as a Middle Eastern country, I love Walk on Water ( as well as the other films by Eytan Fox).
Also Broken Wings.
posted by bookgirl18 at 7:26 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: The films of Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, especially Divine Intervention, are pretty great. Really funny stuff in a Jacques Tati vein.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:29 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Youssef Chahine (died last year) was probably Egypt's best-known director outside the Arab world. You'll find discussions of his work on the internet--opinion tends to be that his earlier work was better. This is what opinion normally says about long-lived, prolific directors.

Lots of good stuff has come out of Lebanon--West Beirut is one example, Caramel another, In the battlefield (a movie that takes place during a war, not a 'war movie')... I haven't got round to seeing Caramel yet, but I can vouch for the other two.

For these and other Arab films, check out (which can also, I think, help you locate DVDs).

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Uzak (Distant) really impressed me. Turkish, this one. His new film, Üç Maymun (Three Monkeys) is currently getting shown in American film festivals, I think--meant to be very good.

Lots of interesting films that are made in the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, and Israel are actually European co-productions. With Turkish films there's often German involvement; with North African, Egyptian, Lebanese films, French--though it's not unusual to see a film's country of origin listed as "Egypt/France/UK/Germany/Spain" etc. From North Africa there's obviously The Battle of Algiers; I liked Viva Laldjérie. Both of these are mostly in French. Some leads to follow on North African cinema are here.

There are blogs around where you can find out more, too. For example, U of Arkansas anthropology professor Ted Swedenburg has a blog named Hawgblawg where movies (amongst many other things) are discussed. Just search the archives. He's got an obituary for Chahine, for example.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:35 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Persepolis was based on an Iranian graphic novel, co-written by the original author/artist, althoug produced in France. (And is quite good.)
posted by K.P. at 7:35 AM on December 9, 2009

Yeah, I came here to recommend Persepolis. Great movie.
posted by Cygnet at 8:27 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: I really enjoyed Portrait of a Lady Far Away when I saw it a few years ago. It was haunting.
posted by ropeladder at 9:11 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: Two dramas that are unlikely to appear on your radar, and may not be a genre of any interest to you, deal with gay relationships in Israel.

The first, Yossi and Jagger, is about two IDF soldiers who fall in love while stationed together on the Lebanese border. It's been listed as one of the top 50 gay themed movies of all time.

The second, The Bubble (or Ha-Buah), is about an Israeli man and a Palestinian man who fall in love in Tel Aviv.

Both are available on Netflix as DVDs or watch-instantly online, which is where I saw them.
posted by darkstar at 9:14 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: This article offers a list of the 100 most important Egyptian films from 1933 to 2006, chosen by a group of Egyptian film critics and historians. I certainly haven't seen all of the movies, but I have seen a fair number, and I think the list is a good starting place.

Of the older movies, I would particularly recommend:
Doaa al-Karawan (The Nightingale's Prayer)
La Anam (I Don't Sleep)
Bab Al-Hadeed (Cairo Central Station)
Al-Lis wal-Kilab (The Thief and the Dogs)

I'm not a huge fan of contemporary Egyptian cinema, but I did like Al-Abwab Al-Mughliqa (The Closed Doors) and the last two movies on the list were huge hits here: Bahib Al-Sima (I Love Cinema) and Imarat Yaqoubiyan (The Yacoubian Building).
posted by anonymous78 at 10:27 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: If you're interested in Israeli movies, I loved Kadosh and Late Marriage.
posted by anonymous78 at 10:29 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: And if you're interested in Iranian cinema, another heavyweight filmmaker - perhaps THE heavyweight filmmaker- is Abbas Kiarostami. He has lots of stuff worth seeing: The Wind Will Carry Us, Taste of Cherry, Ten, Five, Where is the Friend's House (a personal favorite), The White Balloon (another favorite). He wrote the screenplay for Crimson Gold, which was mentioned above.
posted by anonymous78 at 10:36 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: I have to highly recommend the Israeli movie Ushpizin. It's sweet, funny, dramatic...and it's not about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
posted by j1950 at 11:50 AM on December 9, 2009

I suppose I shoud have said "Two dramas that may not appear on your radar or be a genre of any interest to you..."

Just so I'm not making any assumptions, etc.
posted by darkstar at 11:59 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: On the Persian tip:
Samira Makhmalbaf's father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, has a number of interesting films. He was featured in Kiarostami's Close-Up.

Forough Farrokhzad, better known as a poet, pulled off some pretty incredible stuff with The House is Black.

Lawrence of Arabia?
posted by minkll at 12:27 PM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: Jazireh Ahani (Iron Island): Iranian movie about an odd assortment of people (men, women, children) living on an old oil tanker drifting around in the Persian Gulf. I only know a bit about Iran's history and politics, so I am sure there was a lot that I missed when I saw this film--it is meant to be allegorical--but it was strange and interesting. Worth watching if you have the patience.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:35 PM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: Osama is about a young Afghani girl that disguises herself as a boy so she can work since they are living under Taliban rule. Recently released Cairo Time may be relevant as well.
posted by googlebombed at 2:19 PM on December 9, 2009

Children of Heaven if it hasnt been mentioned yet
posted by beccaj at 4:09 PM on December 9, 2009

Response by poster: I think you've all given me more than enough titles to last me for a month's viewing, and I'm really pleased by the response so far. I'm going to leave this thread "unresolved". Feel free to add more titles as they spring to mind.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:44 AM on December 10, 2009

Netflix has an Israeli film called "The Band's Visit" that I thought was wonderful.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:34 PM on December 10, 2009

I just remembered another one: Kandahar. Beautiful and haunting.

In an odd coincidence, as I type this, an episode of Afghanada is playing on CBC radio.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:21 PM on December 10, 2009

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