Arab Films

KHAMSA’s picks of the Arab films to watch this year.

Sometimes, the best way to understand the culture of a country is through its films. As we embark on the journey of 2024, KHAMSA has curated a selection of Arab films from various countries and eras. From Algeria to Palestine, including Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, this list of Arab films offers a diverse range of cinematic experiences, providing insight into the rich tapestry of emotions, histories, and cultures across the Arab world.

١. I STILL HIDE TO SMOKE – Rayhana Obermeyer (Production: French-Algerian, Released: 2016)

Source: Amazon

In a suburban Algerian hammam, a group of women gathers secretly to share their stories, dreams, and sorrows. Among them are Fatima, a prostitute, Naïma, a battered woman, and others, each carrying her own burden. In this enclosed space where they feel free, they exchange confidences, laugh, and smoke, offering each other a much-needed respite from the social pressure and oppressive conventions that govern their lives outside. But their refuge is threatened when the men from the nearby mosque decide to close down the hammam, considering their gatherings immoral.

Through this poignant portrait of female solidarity and resilience, I Still Hide to Smoke is one of few Arab films that offers an intimate look at the struggles and hopes of women in a society dominated by patriarchy and conservative traditions.

٢. CARAMEL – Nadine Labaki (Production: French-Lebanese, Released: 2007)

Source: Academic Acclerator

In a hair salon in the heart of Beirut, a group of women of different generations regularly gather to talk about their lives, loves, and hopes. Among them are Layale, the salon owner, who is in love with a married man, Nisrine, who is preparing to get married, but hides an embarrassing secret, and Rima, a salon employee who discovers feelings for a female client.

As they navigate through the challenges of their personal and professional lives in a conservative society, they find comfort, support, and friendship in each other. Between laughter, tears, and moments of closeness, these Lebanese women offer us an authentic and touching look at everyday life in a city marked by beauty and complexity.

Caramel tenderly and humorously captures the struggles and triumphs of these women as they seek love, freedom, and happiness in an ever-changing world, like few Arab films before or after it

٣. WADJDA – Haifaa Al-Mansour (Production: German-Saudi, Released: 2012)

Source: IMDb

In the streets of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a young girl named Wadjda dreams of owning a green bicycle she saw in a shop near her home. However, in her conservative society where girls are discouraged from riding bicycles, this desire is considered inappropriate. Determined to make her dream come true, Wadjda decides to participate in a Quran recitation competition at school, hoping to win the prize money and buy the bicycle herself. Meanwhile, she tries to find ways to earn money, including selling bracelets and participating in various lucrative activities. Throughout her journey, Wadjda defies societal expectations and seeks to assert her identity and independence. Wadjda explores the tensions between tradition and modernity in Saudi Arabia through her insightful and determined eyes, offering a poignant portrait of a young girl struggling to achieve her dreams in a world that constantly tells her they are out of reach.

٤. THE SILENCES OF THE PALACE – Moufida Tlatli (Production: French-Tunisian, Released: 1994)

Source: IMDb

Set in the 1950s in Tunisia, The Silences of the Palace follows a young woman named Alia who works as a maid in a palace owned by an aristocratic family. Raised within the palace walls, Alia witnesses the intrigues, secrets, and dramas unfolding among the family members and staff. As she grows older, she becomes increasingly aware of her own identity and place in society, as a woman from a lower social class, but also as a witness to the privileges and abuses of power of the elite. When the Tunisian revolution erupts, Alia finds herself at a moment of transformation and struggle for freedom, not only for her country, but also for herself. Through the oppressive silences of the palace, this one is a significant entry in the world of Arab films, one that explores themes of oppression, resilience, and the quest for emancipation in a society undergoing profound change.

٥. OMAR – Hany Abu Assad (Production: Palestine, Released: 2013)

Source: Cinema Tunisien

Omar follows the story of a young Palestinian baker living in the occupied West Bank, involved in resistance against Israel with his childhood friends. He and his friends Tarek and Amjad find themselves caught in the conflict with Israel and become involved in acts of resistance against the occupation. After his arrest, he becomes an informant for the Israeli forces, jeopardizing his relationships and loyalty.

The film explores the moral dilemmas faced by Palestinians living under occupation, as well as the realities of daily life in an environment marked by violence and mistrust. Omar offers a poignant look at the challenges faced by those who struggle for freedom and justice in a context of prolonged conflict

Selma Chougar is a French independent journalist of Algerian origin who writes for several magazines based in Paris, London, and Dubai. Culture and societal phenomena in the Arab world are her areas of expertise. She contributes to both French and English-language magazines.