art of resistance, Israel, Morocco

Remembering Ronit Elkabetz: A Thing Of Soul & Beauty.

ronit/From the film The Band’s Visit/

Ronit Elkabetz died. It’s hard to believe it, but it’s true – there will be no more films featuring the lovely and talented, bright and insightful, funny and beautiful beyond words – Elkabetz.

She was only 51, the cause of her death cancer. During the last twenty-five years she became a true diva of Israeli cinema, one of Israel’s most respected artists – she was an actress, director and screenwriter.

Elkabetz was born in Beersheba, to a religious Moroccan Jewish family originally from Essaouira. She became an important voice for Mizrahi women – her uncompromising and daunting work helped push Sephardi women to the cinematic forefront. The ethnic, class, and gender oppression of the Mizrahi women was an issue Elkabetz deeply explored in her work.

Michal Aviad, who cast Elkabetz as the lead in her film Invisible, said Elkabetz taught her film. Speaking to Haaretz, Aviad said:

“She had an enormous heart, she was terribly funny and she knew how to distinguish good from bad with brilliant clarity. And her heart was in the right place – politically, morally, as a feminist, as a Mizrahi, whatever it was.”

From 2012, Elkabetz served as president of Achoti (Sister), an organization set up by Mizrahi feminists. She worked as a volunteer, before the group asked her to be its president.

Gett/Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem/

In 2010, Elkabetz received a lifetime achievement award from the Israeli Film Academy for her contribution to Israeli cinema. During her career, she played the roles of single mothers, prostitutes, immigrants, hairdressers – those who are struggling, those who choose to live differently, those stuck in the middle of nowhere, those at the margins of the society.

I will never forget her as Dina in The Band’s Visit, Ruthie in Or and Viviane Amsalem in the trilogy To Take A Wife, Shiva and Gett. Her witt, smile, her broken china voice and the way I believed her from the first moment she appeared on the screen – it was magic, a thing of beauty that is joy forever.

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She believed that the cinema has to build a new world and bring about change. She wanted to be involved in projects that investigate the soul, to act and direct only things that can influence and change reality and society.

Alongside her dominant role in Israeli cinema, Elkabetz also starred in French films, including some directed by André Téchiné and Fanny Ardant.

She will be truly missed and remembered as one of the greats –  her soulful ways made all the difference. Elkabetz was human, and in her case – that word should be taken with all the romance and beauty that it entails.

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans

Remembering Mahdi ‘Amel: The Importance of Resistance

Remembering Samir Kassir: Life as Courage, Death as Silence

Remembering Hassan Fathy: To Build With The People

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art of resistance, Turkey

Five For Friday: Ten Years In Turkish Cinema.

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If I write that Turkish cinema is on the rise, that it is original and compelling, often beautiful and poetic – I wouldn’t be saying anything new. The truth is already out there.

Still, I felt the need to write about a couple of really great Turkish films made during the last ten years (2006 – 2016). These films are maybe not the most famous ones, and maybe not even the best ones – but I think they show diversity, originality, and each one of them is a special experience, rich in layers and nuanced.

Also, I noticed that Five For Friday category has been neglected for last couple of months – I am sorry about that and will do my best to bring a little something different to Fridays more often. It’s Friday, I am in love kind of a thingbut Middle East Revised way.

1. Sonbahar (2008)

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Sonbahar (Autumn) could easily be one of my favourite films of all time. If favourite means films that stay with you, somewhere inside, films you can watch many times and still enjoy every little detail, films you remember and connect with your everyday life many years later – then Sonbahar is one of my favourite films.

It is a story about a man who struggles after his release from ten years as a political prisoner (story painfully familiar to many people in Turkey).

Sonbahar is Özcan Alper’s debut film, full of meaningful silence, obervations on life and change. It takes you inside the soul and mind of the prisoner (Yusuf) – where his troubles hide, where sorrow finds its nest, where disappointment and doubts have permanent residence.

And all of that happnes in the beautiful snowy mountains of northern Turkey, or by the raging sea. Memory confronts reality the same way waves hit the shore relentlessly. Yusuf meets his old mother, his childhood friend, and a new girl – who shares his solitude.

Slowly, he grasps the impact his ten years in prison had on his mother, he sees the way his friend’s life changed, and finds comfort (atleast for a while) in the arms of the girl who understands him without talking.

The movie is not slow, it has perfect pace for all of those who want to really get into the story, who wish to feel what Yusuf feels, who want to take it one step at a time. For it is a big story, it is one’s life.

Onur Saylak and Nino Lejava’s performances as disillusioned individuals embittered with life are beyond great – they make you believe and let under their skin.

I will not write more – I will leave it to you to discover all the beauty of Sonbahar, to explore it in your own way. Just one more thing – an amazing song from the film, which needs to be shared here.

2. Takva (2006)

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Takva (A Man’s Fear of God) is something very different from Sonbahar. It is a story about a humble and introvert Muharrem who lives in a solitary and meager existence of a prayer and sexual abstinence adhering strictly to the most severe Islamic doctrines.

His devotion attracts the attention of the leader of a rich and powerful Istanbul religious group and he offers him an administrative post as a rent collector for their numerous properties.

Muharrem’s new job throws him into the modern outside world he has successfully avoided for so long. He used to live without deep thoughts about practical life and religion, and it all changes. That’s when the doubt starts playing an important role in his life. And religious fanatics – well, they don’t appreciate doubt very much.

Muharrem notices that he himself has become proud, domineering and dishonest. And he has a special new peoblem – a tormenting image of seductive woman who tempts him in his dreams. With the balance of his devotion now upset, his fear of God begins to eat away at his senses.

The plot for this lovely film is based on an old folk tale from Turkey about a man who refuses to marry the daughter of his spiritual master although he clearly loves her. In Onder Cakar and Omer Kiziltan’s adaptation, it exposes the inner mechanisms of puritan and extreme religious orders and throws light on the mental set-up of its loyal members.

There’s so much great irony in this film, do watch it.

3. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011)

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Nuri Bilge Ceylan is one of the most famous Turkish directors, earning praise wherever he goes and whatever he does. All of that is, of course, with a good reason – his immense talent.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a story about a group of men who set out in search of a dead body in the Anatolian steppes (yes, there’s some amazing scenery in this film).

A local prosecutor, police commissar, and a doctor lead the search for a victim of a murder to whom a suspect named Kenan and his mentally challenged brother confessed. The search is proves to be more difficult than expected as Kenan is fuzzy and can’t remember the body’s exact location.

We spend the whole night with the group searching for the body. The film really feels like that – like you’re out there with them – you feel the boredom, exhaustion, anger, all of it. The film is long, it provides enough space to feel all of that.

You pass throught the beautiful countryside, and enjoy small frames and moments that wonderfully shed light on the different characters. It shows how a simple task can get complicated, it show how much can fit in just one moment, in one night.

It allows the viewers to see the details, to dig below the surface of events and characters. There’s just so much of life in it – in its honesty, in the reality of it. It’s bold and it’s a lot (it’s definitely not escape cinema), but I think we can take it – and love it.

4. Times And Winds (2006)

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Well, it’s called Times and Winds. It sounded promising right away. I grew up in a small village, and this film just hits home for me. In the film, it’s all about this small, poor village, leaning over high rocky mountains, facing the immense sea, flanked by olive yards.

It’s about they way life is made there – and how it is different in so many ways. Villagers are simple people who struggle to cope with a harsh nature. They earn their living, on a daily survival basis, out of the earth and of a few animals they feed.

Just like the animals and trees around them, they have the knowledge of their temporary existence – they feel the present in a way physicists could never understand. They are the ones who know what it means – it’s their time mode.

Villagers live according to the rhythm of the earth, air and water, day and night and seasons. The daily time is divided into five parts by the sound of the call to prayer (Night, Evening, Afternoon, Noon and Morning).

Children study in the village school consisting of only one classroom. Families show their gratitude to the young teacher by giving her presents – the bread they cook themselves, the milk of their own sheep.

It’s the way my grandma used to do it (and still does it)  – wine for the teacher, eggs for the doctor. You give what you have, you give what you make.

Children grow up slowly in the village, you can feel it. We can feel their stories, their little torments – being in love with the teacher, being angry at your parents, discovering secrets of the adult life. Omer, Yakup and Yildiz are on the path of discovery, on their way to greater responsibility, transcending from childhood to an entirely new world.

They yearn for an escape, and gather in the wilderness around the village to  play and dream. Images show the young children lying prone – dead or asleep – out in the wilderness.

As one viewer observed – it might be a sad reflection of a world where they already feel like a disappointment. But, I would add, it might also be what saves them in the end.

Also – Arvo Part’s music just makes it perfect, it completes the circle.

5. Winter Sleep (2014)

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Another slow, life-contemplating film by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Aydin, a former actor, runs a small hotel (named Othello) in central Anatolia (again, amazing scenery) with his young wife Nihal with whom he has a stormy relationship and his sister Necla who is suffering from her recent divorce.

Snow everywhere and love (and ego) will tear us apart – kind of times. As the snow begins to fall, the hotel turns into a shelter but also an inescapable place that fuels their animosities. So, in a way, it is a shelter turned into a battlefield.  It also goes to show that there’s no shelter from ourselves.

Aydin apparently enjoys a prosperous life, but that is just the surface – his world is one where people talk a lot but say very little, where people make up and cover up with words the lack of action and emotion. Ceylan shows how his protagonists substitute talk for action.

There is lots of dialogue in this film, unlike most of the other films on this list, but all the talk in it shows how talking can be empty, how it can be means of self deception, an ego trip, a false charade.

The film deals with the universal human experience, and puts it into a kind of a moralistic tale (but not a preaching one). It just opens many philosophical discussions, but discussions we can all partake in. It makes us relate, rethink, and feel – over and over again.

This is a film I plan on watching again in the future – as I (hopefully) get older and my experiences in life change – I want to see how my perception of the film (and life) will change, what will I understand better, what rewards this film still has to give me.

Winter Sleep just might make you more awake than ever. Watch it.

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

90’s Iranian Cinema

Postcards From Syrian Refugees

Costs of War

Conversations With History

Iraq War Documentaries

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art of resistance, Iran

Five For Friday: 90’s Iranian Cinema.

If you haven’t discovered marvelous Iranian cinema yet, you better get to it! To offer you a good start, here are five Iranian films from the 90’s. 90’s were good times for Iranian cinema – providing us with so many gems, so much diversity and originality.

1. The Wind Will Carry Us by Abbas Kiarostami

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The film’s title is a reference to a poem written by the great Forough Farrokhzad  – which is already a promising start. The story follows a city engineer Behzad (with two other men) who comes to a rural village in Iran to keep vigil for a dying relative.

We see him trying to fit in with the local community and witness the way he changes his own attitudes with time. The main theme here is life and death, and approach to it is highly poetic. The beauty of the landscapes is captivating and serves the film so well. Great piece of art by Kiarostami – one to take in slowly, to dissolve into.

2. The Color of Paradise by Majid Majidi

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When I see a film is made by Majid Majidi, I know I am gonna go through falling in love and having my heart broken in 90 minutes. But I also know my heartache will not be a bitter one – yes, it will hurt, but it’s nice to be hurt by such beauty, nice to know you’ve been able to love the way you love(d). It was the same with this film.

This is a story about Mohammad, boy at Tehran’s institute for the blind, who waits for his dad to pick him up for summer vacation. His father finally comes and takes him to their village where his sisters and granny await. Mohammad adores nature and longs for village life with his family, but his father is ashamed of him and doesn’t want him around. Over granny’s objections, dad apprentices Mohammad far from home to a blind carpenter. This is heartwarming, heartwrenching, beautiful film.

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3. The Apple by Samira Makhmalbaf

the-apple-movie-poster-1998-1020202597This is a true documentary/drama gem. The story goes like this – after twelve years of imprisonment by their own parents, two sisters are finally released by social workers to face the outside world for the first time (it is a true story, by the way). Neighbors were signing a petition for social workers to investigate a home where their blind mother and out-of-work father have locked up two girls. The parents claim they were only protecting their children but the papers tell stories of children chained up and kept like animals.

The film crew follows the parents and children as they come to terms with the new, enforced freedom. Everything about this film is so subtle and so vibrant at the same time – it doesn’t punch you in the face with the moral, it allows you to come to it on your own. Beautiful and moving – watch it.

4. Salaam Cinema by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

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It was such a joy watching this. The director Mohsen Makhmalbaf put up an advertisement in the papers calling for an open casting for his next movie. However, when thousands of people showed up, he decided to make a film about the casting and the screen tests of the would-be actors.

Some of those would-be actors are almost crazy, some are utterly shy, some are there for different reasons (like getting out of the country), and some just might be great for acting. Makhmalbaf asks them all why they came and insists that they act and show what they can do. He even demands of them to laugh or cry within 10 seconds because that’s what actors can do or should be able to do. Funny, interesting, moving – this is just a great little film!

5. The Taste of Cherry by Abbas Kiarostami

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Another slow, beautiful, contemplating life and death film by Kiarostami. It is a story of a man (Mr. Badii) who drives his truck in search of someone who will quietly bury him under a cherry tree after he commits suicide. Nobody wants to help him – until he crosses paths with an old Turkish taxidermist, who has a sick son (needs the money) and has previously attempted suicide himself, so he agrees to assist Badii.

We never find out Badii’s motifs for suicide, no explanation whatsoever is offered. Many critics have disliked that fact, but I think that is what makes this a good story. I was still able to relate to Badii and feel his sorrow. It shows how we must take such conditions seriously – if we were to find out his reasons, we might judge him, we might say “oh, c’mon, that’s not a good reason to kill yourself”. That is wrong and wouldn’t change the way he feels. And the way he feels is illustrated in the wastness of the landscape he passes through – dry and dusty, endlessly empty. Watch this film.

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Postcards From Syrian Refugees

Costs of War

Conversations With History

Iraq War Documentaries

Graphic Novels on Israel & Palestine

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art of resistance, Egypt, Morocco, travel

Cinemas of Morocco and Egypt.

maroc081,large.1422288691/Cinema Al Falah, Casablanca/

Stephan Zaubitzer started photographing movie theatres in 2003. Twelve years later, he has an impressive cinema collection in his portolio, from the United States and Romania, to Brazil and the Czech Republic. Among the cinemas he discovered and captured in his photos, there are many that can be found in Morocco and Egypt – from Casablanca, Marrakech and Tangier to Alexandria and Cairo.

Zaubitzer was fascinated by the dark interiors with their outlandish decorations, and by the exteriors, which always stand out from their urban surroundings. His photos allows us to take a tour around the magical world of movie theaters in Morocco and Egypt.

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//all photos © Stephan Zaubitzer//

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For more, visit Stephan Zaubitzer’s official website.

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art of resistance, Iran

Children of Heaven.

Children of Heaven (1997) is an Iranian film directed by Majid Majidi. Some time has passed since it was made, but it is timeless in its beauty. That is why I want to write something about it (now).

It’s a story about a boy from a poor family, Ali, who loses his sister’s shoes. He knows his father has no money to buy new ones, so he and his sister decide to share his sneakers. She goes to school in the morning, he goes in the afternoon. Every day after school, she runs fast to meet him, and they exchange shoes on the street (he takes the sneakers, she puts on the house slippers), and then he runs fast in order to get to school on time.

It’s an adventure, and they have a lot of additional issues on the way. The plot is very simple, but it captures such a bigger story. The issues of poverty – not being able to afford basic things, feeling frustrated, running in circles.. But, it also perfectly captures the creativity and adroitness growing out of poverty. Not being able to have something, you need to find your way – either make it somehow, or learn how to get around without it. And still find pleasure, and still be able to smile, and – love. That is the magic, and children are the ones who know how to do it the best.

All of the actors are great, but Amir Farrokh Hashemian, a boy playing Ali, is simply amazing. His emotions are so honest and moving.  I didn’t feel, at any point – he is an actor. It was real, it was his life. There’s this aura of beauty and innocence which makes it a true pleasure to watch. It took me back to my childhood. Our ways of making things and making things happen – little moments of joy – like not having money for firecrackers for New Year’s eve, but collecting milk cartons for days, inflating them and then jumping on them to make them sound like firecrackers. It was magic.

Be sure to watch to movie, if you haven’t. It’s unique, heartwarming, inspiring and just –  marvelous.

Here are some screenshots I took. Enjoy.

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