Rare Saudi film shown at Berlin festival

Sat Feb 20, 2016 8:42pm EST
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By Sarah Mills

BERLIN (Reuters) - It's rare that a Saudi Arabian film is shown at a major film festival, but Mahmoud Sabbagh's "Barakah yoqabil Barakah" (Barakah Meets Barakah) has given Berlin a lighthearted look at the challenges of romance in the desert kingdom.

Screened in the Forum section of the Berlinale, outside the main competition, the director's debut feature was billed as a romantic comedy, though this is not how he describes it.

"I like to call my film a coming-of-age story rather than romantic comedy," Sabbagh told Reuters in an interview.

"I borrowed from so many genres in my film, because I said we are defining the perception of cinema, we have no precedents before us."

Public film screenings were outlawed in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s when the powerful religious establishment took a position against cinema.

However, Sabbagh said the availability of video-on-demand in Saudi Arabia made him confident the majority of Saudis will see his work.

"Saudis watch and consume a lot of art so this is our chance to produce art, and my film is about public space, it's about individual freedom," he said.

The film tells the story of Barakah (Hisham Fageeh), a civil servant from Jeddah who has a chance meeting with Bibi (Fatima AlBanawi), the adopted daughter of a rich couple.               Continued...

Berlinale bear statuettes are pictured during the awards ceremony of the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany February 20, 2016.     REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch