5 Unforgettable Films to Learn About Arabic Cultures

Arabic cultures are a complex, heterogeneous and beautiful mix of traditions, beliefs, and customs that are often misrepresented and overlooked in today’s media. While recent Hollywood productions (Prince of Persia, The Mummy, etc.) have treated Arabic cultures as exotic backdrops for their storylines, they have failed to accurately portray Arabic cultures as living, breathing entities. Fortunately, there are more nuanced films from Arab filmmakers that delve into Arabic cultures, providing a much more authentic and meaningful experience for viewers.

Here are five films (both fiction and documentary) directed by Arab ateurs (or should we say almualifun?) that will help you learn more about Arabic cultures in all their rich glory.

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1. The Night of Counting the Years (1969, Egypt)

This classic fiction film tells the story of an Arabic tribe known as the Theban nobility in late 19th century Egypt, and their struggle to protect their ancient burial grounds from being plundered by the Khorshid family. It follows a young woman named Shokook who, after discovering that the Khorshid family has stolen an ancient mummy from her tribe, leads a rebellion to reclaim it and protect their cultural heritage.

The Night of Counting the Years is a powerful and poignant story that speaks to Arabic audiences about the importance of protecting their cultural heritage, and who teaches non-Arabic viewers about the clash between modern and traditional Arabic cultures and values. However, it’s not just a piece of didactic fiction. It is also an incredibly entertaining film which won the 1969 Cannes International Film Festival and was voted one of the 50 greatest films of all time by Sight & Sound magazine in 2012.

2. The Silences of the Palace (1994, Tunisia)

This semi-autobiographical fiction film directed by Tunisian filmmaker Moufida Tlatli focuses on female Arabic women who are struggling against traditional Arabic gender roles. When Alia, a woman whose family works for an Arabic prince in 1950s Tunisia, discovers that her mother was once a slave in the palace of the prince, she embarks on a quest to uncover her past and confront her present.

The Silences of the Palace is an important movie for Arabic women, as it sheds light on their struggles in a patriarchal society, and highlights the resilience of Arabic women who fight to break free from their sexual and social servitude during the French Protectorate in Tunisia. This little-known country was the first Arabic country to gain independence in 1956, and the film also explores the Arabic people’s struggle for freedom from colonialism.

The Silences of the Palace won numerous awards, including the Golden Camera award at the 1994 Cannes Festival. Caryn James reviewed the film for the New York Times, describing it as a “universal coming-of-age story with a feminist twist” and praising the performances of the main cast.

3. Paradise Now (2005, Palestine)

This powerful and harrowing drama directed by Hany Abu-Assad tells the story of two Palestinian friends, Said and Khaled, who are recruited to become suicide bombers in an attempt to bring attention to their struggle for freedom. As they prepare for their mission, they wrestle with complex moral questions while facing pressure from family and authorities.

Paradise Now is an important film for Arabic audiences, as it explores the complex layers of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and shows how those involved in it are often caught between two worlds. It also provides insight into Arabic cultures, showing the rich diversity of Arabic countries, including religious customs, familial relationships and parental expectations.

This film won the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006, and it has been highly praised by critics worldwide, with Peter Travers from Rolling Stone calling it “a movie of almost unbearable intensity”.

4. The Yacoubian Building (2006, Egypt)

This Egyptian drama is based on the best-selling Arabic novel by Alaa Al Aswany and focuses on a group of various Arabic characters living in Cairo’s Yacoubian Building. Through the stories of these inhabitants, which range from a corrupt politician to an impoverished tailor, it brings to light some of the many social and political issues Arabic countries face, including poverty, religious extremism and the status of women.

The Yacoubian Building is a consistent Arabic favourite that provides Arabic viewers with an understanding of Arabic cultures, customs and history. It also serves as a powerful reminder to Arabic audiences of the importance of standing up for their rights and striving to make positive change.

The film won a number of important awards, such as the Gold Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2006 and Best Arabic Feature at the 2008 Cairo International Film Festival. It has also been praised by critics, with Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times calling it “a vivid portrayal of life in modern Arabic society”.

5. Amreeka (2009, Kuwait, United States)

This fiction film tells the story of Muna, a single mother from the Palestinian city of Ramallah who decides to emigrate with her son Fadi to the United States. As they embark on their journey, they encounter a variety of obstacles – both humorous and heartbreaking – that test their resilience. In the end, however, it is Muna’s unwavering faith and love for her family that keeps them going.

This movie is an ode to the strength of Arabic families, who, despite all odds, continue to strive and survive. It is also a wonderful movie for those interested in seeing a realistic portrayal of what it’s really like to be an Arab immigrant in the United States.

Amreeka won numerous awards, including the Best Arabic Film prize at the 2009 Cairo International Film Festival. Roger Ebert said about the film: “Amreeka isn’t a story of American prejudice [regarding Arabic cultures], but of American reality, the good and the bad.

By exploring Arabic cultures, histories and societies through these films, viewers can gain a greater understanding of Arabic cultures and the challenges faced by its people. From the quest for freedom in Paradise Now to the struggles of Arabic women in The Silences of the Palace and the social study of contemporary middle classes in The Yacoubian Building, Arabic films offer an important insight into Arabic cultures and customs.

At Language Trainers, we love recommending films that expose our readers to languages and cultures from around the world. Whether you’re learning Arabic or just curious about Arabic countries, these films provide a unique and rewarding experience that is sure to stay with you for years to come.

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