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Top 10 must-watch movies of DIFF 2011

In no particular rank, we bring you ten movies you should see during the Dubai International Film Festival. From drama to documentary, here’s our DIFF ‘must-watch’ list.

December 10, 2011 5:28 by

  • UK/ 2011 /Arabic, English dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / Digital File / 73 mins

    Genre: Biography, Documentary, Historical

    This historical documentary by Spirit Level Film premieres in the Middle East at DIFF. A 12-part series directed by Richard Symons, it delves deep into the sacrifices the late Palestinian revolutionary leader and icon of the "Palestinian cause" had to make in his quest for peace. What makes us this film special is its exclusive access to the inner sanctum of the protagonist and other figures of public office. “He was wedded to the cause,” says Suha Arafat, Yasser Arafat’s widow and the ex Libyan PM, who makes an appearance in the documentary.

  • Hong Kong / 2011 / Cantonese dialouge with English subtitles / Colour / DCP / 119 mins

    Genre: Drama

    The second film that has made it to our list comes from Hong Kong. "A Simple Life" is a critically acclaimed drama based on the heart-wrenching relationship between a 40-something man (played by Andy Lau) and the family's long-serving amah who worked for his family for four generations (portrayed by Deanie Lp). It was screened at the Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival but is greatly awaited for its general release in Hong Kong in 2012. If you're the kind of viewer who is prone to tears then get your tissues ready when you sit down to watch it.  On an additional note, the female lead has won the Best Actress award at this year's Venice Film Festival.

  • Morocco / 2010 / Arabic, French dialouge with English subtitles / Colour / HDCam / 92 mins

    Genre: Docudrama, Documentary

    Who doesn’t have a soft spot for the musings of grandfathers with pearls of wisdom and still-hopeful eyes? Les tortues ne meurent pas de vieillesse or “Turtles Do Not Die Of Old Age” explores the lives of three old men nearing their 80s: Chehma, a former master fisherman; Erradi, a solitary innkeeper and Abdesslam; and a street musician from the countryside, still working for a living. This film depicts their desire to continue living in the beautiful northern coastal region of Morocco, their views in the face of an impending death and shows their courage to ceaselessly work, despite their age. Their desire to be known, heard, and understood means that they are likely to fight death and not give in to the darkness of death, perhaps because they feel there is yet more to do. The film walks us through the universality of life, old age and death, making its way into the third slot on this list. This is a documentary that explores the essence of their fading generation encompassed with the subtlety of human compassion and sentiments. Directed by Hind Benchekroun, Sami Mermer in Québec, Canada, this 92 minutes long documentary is on our third slot in the list.

  • Mexico, Spain / 2011 / Catalan, English, Spanish dialouge with English subtitles / Colour and Black &   White / DCP / 86 mins

    Genre: Allegory

    It was rumored that three cardboard boxes containing a collection of 126 rolls of film featuring approximately 4,500 snapshots of war-time scenes taken by the three most accomplished photojournalists of their time, Robert Capa (who later went on to found the progressive photojournalism agency, Magnum Photos), his lover Gerda Taro and their friend “Chim” David Seymour during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), were lost at the beginning of 2nd World War. The rolls contained priceless record of the defining events of the 1930s which led to the Second World War.  Sixty-eight years later, these rare photos were discovered in the International Center of Photography (ICP), NY in late December 2007. The boxes became an international news item, then an exhibit, now a film, “The Mexican Suitcase.The priceless piece of work had a long and meandering journey to the midtown Manhattan museum, and represents a history that is only now being explained and understood. This legendary Mexican suitcase recently made its journey from New York to Barcelona’s very own cultural epicenter, MNAC, el Museu National d’art de Catalunya.

  • Finland, France, Germany / 2011 / French dialouge with English subtitles / Colour / 35 mm / 93 mins

    Genre: Comedy, Drama

    This 93-minutes documentary, directed by Aki Kaurismäki, is an easygoing inspirational story of human relationship between an aging down-on-his-luck shoeshiner Frenchman (Andre Wilms) and an illegal immigrant boy from Gabon, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), with a strong comment on European immigration. The film gets its name from the French harbor city where it was shot in artificial sets. With the hopes of reuniting the young boy with his mother, Idrissa’s grandfather smuggles him out of Gabon into the UK (london) in a shipping container, the container gets lost in paperwork and gets stranded in Le Havre where he meets shoeshiner Marcel Marx and his neighbours who help him avert the authorities and reach his final destination.

  • Argentina, Spain / 2010 / Spanish dialouge with English subtitles / Colour / 35 mm / 84 mins

    Genre: Drama

    At 90 minutes, this slow-paced almost dialog-free road movie, “Las Acacias,” explores the loneliness and the pain of loss and later grows into an intensely emotional story about a passing encounter between two strangers and the unlikely bond that grows between them.

    This is a delicate film made up of stolen glances, subtle kindnesses and above all the tentative steps taken by two bruised adults, gradually learning to open up and trust a little. Winner of the Sutherland Award at this year’s London Film Festival, and several awards at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, including the prestigious Camera D’Or. This critically acclaimed road movie of Pablo Giorgelli, was a festival favourite and singled out as ‘one to watch.’

  • Italy / 2011 / Italian dialouge with English subtitles / Colour / 35 mm / 102 mins

    Genre: Coming of Age

    Set deep in the south of Italy, “Corpo Celeste” depicts a young girl’s (Marta’s) learning curve about Christ and Christianity via her transition to early adulthood through Confirmation where one becomes a ‘Soldier of Christ’. The story revolves around a 13-year old Marta, who is struggling to resettle in her hometown of Italy after spending a decade of her life growing up in Switzerland. The thoughtful yet powerful portrayal of a coming-of-age tale about the recognition of life’s dishonesties and loss of humanity makes “Corpo Celeste” a fine watch.

  • Turkey / 2011 / Turkish dialouge with English subtitles / Colour / 35 mm / 157 mins

    Genre: Drama

    “Once upon a time Anatolia,” directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, deals with the blundering ways of investigation by local cops that are at odds with the latest scientific crime-solving methods. It’s a slow-paced movie with a bit of dark comedy and unresolved mystery thrown in.  Although, for some it can be a tough one to sit through (with the first plot point occurs about 90 minutes into the 157-minute movie).

    An intellectually stimulating and profoundly entertaining film that will be greatly appreciated by the critics, “Once upon a time Anatolia” has won awards for Achievement in Directing and Achievement in Cinematography, as well as receiving the Screen International Jury Grand Prize.

  • South Korea / 2011 / Korean dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / HDCam / 87 mins

    Genre: Family, Social

    Coming  from Seungjun Yi,  one of  Korea’s emerging directors in the documentary scene, is a feature length documentary, “Planet of Snail,” which follows the relationship between Young-Chan, a gangly young man who has been deaf and blind since childhood and his wife Soon-Ho, disabled with a spinal injury as a youngster and subsequently far shorter than him. Young-Chan’s only medium of communication with the outside world is through his wife, who is the world to him. The couple communicate by gently tapping each other’s fingers.

    The theme of the film is that he comes from a “Planet of Snail,” where people communicate by touching each other. Here’s a line from the movie that may give you a taste of the depth of this movie: “We call ourselves ‘snails’ because we cannot hear or see and our lives are as slow as the snails. Now I live on earth where time runs so fast which makes me hard to follow the life of the earthmen.”

  • USA / 2011 / English dialouge with Arabic subtitles / Colour / 35 mm / 115 mins

    Genre: Comedy, Drama

    Filmed in backdrop of Hawaii’s natural beauty, “The Descendants,” is directed by Alexander Payne (director of “Sideways”) and an adaptation of the 2009 novel (of the same name) by Kaui Hart Hemmings.

    George Clooney plays Matt King, a successful Hawaiian lawyer and land baron. His world spirals out of control when his wife descends into kind of eternal coma and Clooney’s character is left to care after his disrespectful children while finding out that his wife was cheating on him.

    Clooney gives the performance of his life in this emotionally driven drama. This film is an honest portrayal of family dynamics during a difficult time and the viewers are definitely going to empathize with Clooney’s character as he tries to bring back his family together.


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