These Are the Arab Filmmakers Competing at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival

The festival will take place from May 16-27

The films selected for this year’s Cannes Film Festival have been unveiled today. A number of international films will make their hotly-anticipated premiere on La Croisette when the 76th edition of the annual film festival unfolds from May 16-27. In addition to festival-opener Jeanne du Barry from French director Maïwenn and starring Johnny Depp, Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, and the debut of Sam Levinson’s HBO series The Idol, a number of Arab directors and filmmakers will be premiering their latest cinematic works in the French Riviera next month.

Notably, Oscar-nominated Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, whose film Four Daughters will be competing for the prestigious Palme d’Or, the top prize in the festival. Based on a real-life story, the film features Tunisian actress Hind Sabri as Olfa, a Tunisian housekeeper in her forties from a poor background, who has seen her two teenage daughters become radicalized, run away, join Daesh in Libya and end up imprisoned there following an American attack.

Also vying for the top prize is Brazilian-Algerian director Karim Ainouz’s Firebrand, a historical drama centered around Katherine Parr (Alicia Vikander), the sixth and final wife of the former King of England Henry VIII (Jude Law), who is best remembered for his six marriages and infamously sending two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, to their deaths on the executioner’s block at the Tower of London.

As for the Un Certain Regard category, the official selection’s largest sidebar of new films, there are four films by Arab directors to look forward to. They are Sudanese filmmaker Mohamed Kordofani’s Goodbye Julia, a story about a guilt-ridden retired singer from the north who seeks redemption for causing the death of a southern man by hiring his oblivious wife as her maid; Simple Comme Sylvain from part-Tunisian film director Monia Chokri, which is a rom-com centered around a couple from parallel economic backgrounds; Kadib Abyad by Moroccan film director Asmae El Moudir, which touches on the 1981 “bread riots” in Morocco; and Moroccan director Kamal Lazraq’s debut feature Les Meutes.

At the risk of sounding like our region needs Western validation, we must admit that the impact that Cannes has is immense — last year’s Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness got a Best Picture nomination from the Oscars. In 2019, Parasite, which premiered in Cannes, went on to become the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. With two Arab films competing for the Palme d’Or this year, it’s not completely farfetched that we may see a film director from our side of the world make history at the next Academy Awards.

In Competition

“Four Daughters,” Kaouther Ben Hania

“Firebrand,” Karim Ainouz

“Little Girl Blue,” Mona Achache

Un Certain Regard

“Goodbye Julia,” Mohamed Kordofani

“Simple Comme Sylvain,” Monia Chokri

“Kadib Abyad (The Mother of All Lies),” Asmae El Moudir

“Les Meutes,” Kamal Lazraq

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