Revisiting the Golden Age of Arab Cinema: The British Film Institute Has Embarked upon a 12 Month Long Project to Bring the Works of New Arab Directors to the Attention of the Cinema-Going Public and Also Revive Some Precious Classics

By Andrews, Beverly | The Middle East, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Revisiting the Golden Age of Arab Cinema: The British Film Institute Has Embarked upon a 12 Month Long Project to Bring the Works of New Arab Directors to the Attention of the Cinema-Going Public and Also Revive Some Precious Classics


Andrews, Beverly, The Middle East


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ARAB CINEMA HAS A LONG AND PROUD HISTORY, with Egypt, the region's cinematic powerhouse, boasting an astonishing 80 cinemas as early as 1917. In more recent years, the focus of the world's cineastes shifted from the works of the region's renowned Arab masters to the films of their Farsi speaking neighbours in Iran. However, with the region's ongoing Arab Spring, the focus has shifted back to the Arab speaking world and over the next 12 months London's British Film Institute (BFI) will host a year-long celebration of Arab films, called Discover Arab Cinema. The season is a welcomed opportunity for contemporary audiences to sample cinematic gems of both the past and present from the Arab world.

The season will alternate between monthly focuses on the work of a particular country, to month long examinations of thematic genres. One of the early highlights of the season so far has been a screening of Rachid Djaidani's astonishing French/Algerian feature Hold Back (Rengaine). This beautifully crafted comedy/drama explores the emotional fallout caused by French/Algerian Slimane's engagement to a struggling African actor named Dorcy in a film that is at times comic and then unexpectedly quite profoundly moving.

Hold Back begins with word reaching Slimane's 40 (yes 40) brothers about her recent engagement to Dorcy. The brothers have to decide how they will avenge the family's honour and restore their place within this expatriate community, since any marriage between an Algerian girl and an African man is strictly forbidden and considered to be an insult to the family.

This fresh breezy feature by Djaidani, known primarily in France as an author, not only manages to explore the prejudice immigrant communities commonly face from their hosts in modern day France but also highlights the hostility that often exists between the communities themselves. In many cases communities who happily live side by side, educate their children at the same schools and who would consider themselves lifelong friends, such taboos continue to exist, particularly with regard to a marriage between an Algerian girl and an African man.

As one character points out, in order to show respect, a prospective groom must ask permission of the girl's father even while knowing full well that this same father will, of course, say no. The director states: "Through a love story, I wanted to highlight the hypocrisy that sometimes exists between blacks and second generation North Africans, in particular when it has to do with relationships between a woman and a man of different origin. My mother is Sudanese and my father is Algerian. I have always heard them say how they were both hurt, how she was rejected by the Arabs and he had to put up with French people's derisory comments."

Hold Back doesn't simply look at the fallout this engagement causes among Slimane's Algerian family but also the horror with which it is greeted by Dorcy's relatives. His African mother, makes it perfectly clear that if he proceeds with his engagement, he will become estranged from his family.

The movie's breezy hand-held quality, somewhat reminiscent of the work of the great American indie director John Cassavetes, illustrates the look of many of the films now being produced in the region, films often shot quite quickly (although Hold Back is an exception to this rule, since it took a total of nine years to complete), films made on very limited budgets and mainly without the presence of major stars. …

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