Zoom Lens

Arab Film Festival 1997
Exile, loss, repression, and cultural identity are the strong threads running through the films featured in the Arab Film Festival running this weekend at Fort Mason and next weekend at the Roxie and San Jose's Towne Theater. Sponsored by the Arab Women's Solidarity Association, the films here document Arab cultures under fire from the outside because of war, colonialism, and tourism, and cultures experiencing evolution from within. In most cases the women in these films are ready to discard their veils and to come out from behind latticed windows long before the men in their lives are quite ready to let them go.

In Bezness (Nouri Bouzid, Tunisia; 1993), a young gigolo makes his living off European tourists looking for fun in the sun. Roufa alternately sees himself as a smooth operator, the sole support for his family, or a tragic romantic, but he's also a tyrant at home, raging that his sister be locked up, demanding that his fiancee accept his liaisons and keep her eyes to herself.

In Bab El-Oued City (Merzak Allouache, Algeria; 1994), fundamentalist extremists prowl the streets like brownshirts. Here again, the self-appointed leader of the goon squad, Said, demands that his sister stay at home, or wear a veil. In both Bezness, and Bab El-Oued City, the characters plot, scheme, and obsess on escape. Allouache is known for Salut Cousin!, also showing in this series. Made one year after Bab El-Oued City, the light and funny Salut Cousin! functions almost as a sequel in its portrayal of life for immigrants in Paris.

The series also includes documentaries, ranging from looks at life after wartime in Iraq (Greetings From Iraq) and for Palestinians in Jerusalem (Jerusalem: An Occupation Set in Stone?) to the life of Umm Kulthum, a woman who defied all convention and became a popular singer and a politically influential voice for the people (Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt). It would be a mistake, however, to try to tie these films together in a neat package; these works serve notice that Arab culture is too rich and varied to submit to stereotypes and classification. With films from Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, and Algeria, this series provides a variety of windows with a variety of views.

-- Kathleen Maher

For a complete schedule of the festival, see the Arab Film Festival 1997 guide in Reps Etc, Page 76.

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