• Festivals

Arab Cinema in Cannes 2022: A Strong Presence and Deserved Awards

Politics, religion, and sex are the trinity that always dominate Arab cinema in international film festivals, especially in Cannes. The Cannes International Film Festival is used to welcoming and celebrating these controversial films, which are not allowed to be screened in their original countries for various reasons. Censorship in Arab countries usually does not allow cinema to raise and discuss these issues in movies, whatever they are.

The 75th edition of CIFF witnessed a strong presence of filmmakers of Arab origins, who participated in films in different competitions. Though these films represent western production agencies, Arab talents were keen to bring up local issues, voicing the concerns of their original countries.


Boy from Heaven

Swedish-Egyptian director Tarik Saleh won the Best Screenplay award for his film, Boy from Heaven, which participated in the official competition. The film was received with wide admiration and much enthusiasm from the audience, despite its discussing a very local issue, that of the domination of the Egyptian state and its security services on Al-Azhar, the most important Islamic religious institution.

A few minutes after the start of the film, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar dies, following which security services are mobilized to oversee and direct the choosing of a new Grand Sheikh. In order to ensure the election of a sheikh who will be loyal to the authorities, they recruit a student who came from a small fishermen’s village and send him on a security mission. After he has completed the mission successfully, the recruited student is at risk and the question is: do the security services then keep their secrets safe by sacrificing him? The film – which has raised controversy in Arab circles and has been harshly criticized even by people who did not see it and only know about it from media reports – tries to answer this question.

The film is the second long feature by Saleh, after his first film, The Nile Hilton Incident, which received many awards, including the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival 2017. The film contained harsh political criticism of the Egyptian authorities, which led to Saleh’s arrest by Egyptian security services at that time, as mentioned in the press conference after screening his new film in Cannes.

Saleh said he was unable to film Boy from Heaven in Egypt, but he had to film it in Turkey, because the Egyptian authorities consider him persona non grata – “but  l love Egypt and Arabic language,“ he said. Boy from Heaven stars Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares, and Mohamed Bakri. It is scripted and directed by Tarik Saleh. It is co-produced by Sweden, France, Finland, and Denmark.


Mediterranean Fever

This film, which won the Best Screenplay award in the “Un Certain Regard” competition in Cannes, is about the suffering of Palestinian citizens and their constant feeling of frustration, depression, and uncertainty about the future. The film is directed by the Palestinian director Maha Haj, and revolves around the disease known as Mediterranean fever, which is common among Palestinians. The film had already earned great admiration and appreciation from the festival audience, even before claiming the award. It draws attention to the suffering of the Palestinian people under the ongoing conflict, as expressed by an ordinary citizen, played by Amer Hlehel, who falls into despair after he fails to achieve his ambitions and feels the value of life drain away due to the absence of his homeland and the imbalance of identity of some Palestinians and their belief in the cause. Despite the presence of a loving wife who supports him and two children, he decides to end his life. He makes a deal with his neighbor, a skilled sniper, played by Ashraf Farrah, to shoot him as if he had been killed by mistake, but events don’t go as planned.

The film was co-produced by Germany, France, and Cyprus. Director Maha Haj declared in a press conference for this film that she refused a fund from the Israeli Film Fund, in order to avoid making her film with Israeli money. She added that the film is dedicated to the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli soldiers while covering Israeli army raid on Jenin in the occupied West Bank.



The Tunisian film Harka (Action) won the Best Actor award in the “Un Certain Regard” competition. The film was directed by Lotfy Nathan. It also features the common suffering of Arab citizens, from Palestine in the east to Tunisia in the west of the Arab region.

The film stars Adam Bessa, who plays the role of a poor young man who is forced to sell gas illegally in the streets, and whose life only gets worse after the departure of his father, as he assumes the responsibility for his two young sisters. Meanwhile, his family is threatened with eviction from their home. He is surrounded by worries and debts. He tries to find a job and a solution to improve his difficult circumstances. But his efforts are unfruitful due to the corruption that dominates the country. Despair leads him to put an end to his life.

Harka is co-produced by Tunisia, the United States, France, and Germany.


The Blue Caftan

This daring yet heartwarming film has claimed the Festival’s International Critics’ Prize (FIPRESCI).

Staying away from politics, Moroccan director Maryam Touzani, presents a soft, quiet, but nevertheless courageous film, featuring the everyday life of a couple who run a store specializing in tailoring and selling Moroccan clothes, and who share a quiet love; their relationship is characterized by friendship, understanding, and appreciation, but some of their exchanges also hint at a mystery. This mystery is revealed when Haleem, the husband, goes to a male public bath, and we discover that he is homosexual. Then we recognize Haleem’s attraction to Youssef, a boy whom he is training in the craft of sewing clothes and embroidering the Moroccan caftan, which represents a unique love. Mina, Haleem’s wife, is committed to keep her husband’s secret from everyone, because she appreciates and loves him; but she has cancer, and when as she realizes that her death is approaching, she approaches Youssef, accepts her husband’s love for him and asks the boy to stay by their side. The boy does so, then she quietly passes away and her husband shrouds her in the blue kaftan which he had made and embroidered, and that she had loved

The Blue Caftan stars the Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, who plays the husband, and the Belgian-Moroccan actress LubnaAzabal. It is co-produced by Morocco, France, Belgium, and Denmark.