Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A Saudi in Hollywood

Hani Mustafa was there for the opening of what is arguably the region's most important film festival<

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In its sixth round, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) can be safely described as one of the most important film festivals in the Middle East. This is due as much as anything to its former executive director Peter Scarlet managing to transform the festival from an unremarkable event to an opportunity for the UAE's very mixed population to see carefully curated films from all over the world. Yet perhaps an even more important reason is that those who are in charge of ADFF have a genuine belief in its regional importance and its capacity to spread cinematic culture among Emiratis “ê" something that has not changed sinc Ali Al-Jabri, former head of the Emirates Film Competition, took over from Scarlet. Organisation remains exemplary, and programming proceeds with precision despite the change in management.

With the possible exception of the Egyptian filmmaker Ahmad Maher's Al-Musafir in 2009, the opening films of the last three rounds were not especially artistically special: they were all American and derivative. This year too ADFF opened with an American film set in New York, Arbitrage, which nonetheless stands out for having a Saudi producer, Mohammed Al-Turki. It is the debut of the young filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki. Modelled on a conventional Hollywood script, the film tells the story of Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a millionaire businessman who maintains excellent relations with his family despite his continual long absences for work.

Yet, as the details of the drama reveal, things are not as hunky-dory as they seem: behind the fa≥żade of conventional happiness and success, Miller has a cache of equally conventional troubles. He turns out to have a French lover, a moody artist addicted to cocaine. The plot is as predictable as the characters are stereotypical, so much so the viewer knows in advance how the action will turn out, more or less. Miller not only has a lover, he also suffers from work problems that undermine his financial future. In the climactic scene, while driving with his lover on vacation, Miller has a terrible accident in which she dies and he emerges with a slight face injury and a serious chest concussion.

With a media scandal threatening to destroy both his family and the sale of a large company he owns, instrumental to his business survival, the protagonist tries to cover up the accident“ê¶

Structured along the same lines as in previous years, a range of remarkable films are on offer in the official competition, the New Horizons competition, the documentary competition, the short film competition and the Emirates Films competition. Like Shadi Abdel-Salam's The Night of Counting the Years and Fritz Lang's Metropolis “ê" both screened in previous years “ê" the festival shows a newly restored classic this year, Richard Fleischer's 1954 masterpiece 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the great 1952 musical Singing in the Rain, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. With yet a third world cinema classic, David Lane's 1962 Lawrence of Arabia, as well as a programme of Algerian and Algerian-themed films celebrating 50 years since Algeria's independence “ê" including Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina's 1975 Palme d'Or-winning Chronicle of the Years of Fire his year the dose of older films is significantly higher than in previous years.

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