ARAB CINEMA HAS A LONG AND PROUD HISTORY, with Egypt, the region's cinematic powerhouse, boasting an astonishing 80 cinemas as early as 1917. In more recent years, the focus of the world's cineastes shifted from the works of the region's renowned Arab masters to the films of their Farsi speaking neighbours in Iran. However, with the region's ongoing Arab Spring, the focus has shifted back to the Arab speaking world and over the next 12 months London's British Film Institute (BFI) will host a year-long celebration of Arab films, called Discover Arab Cinema. The season is a welcomed opportunity for contemporary audiences to sample cinematic gems of both the past and present from the Arab world.
The season will alternate between monthly focuses on the work of a particular country, to month long examinations of thematic genres. One of the early highlights of the season so far has been a screening of Rachid Djaidani's astonishing French/Algerian feature Hold Back (Rengaine). This beautifully crafted comedy/drama explores the emotional fallout caused by French/Algerian Slimane's engagement to a struggling African actor named Dorcy in a film that is at times comic and then unexpectedly quite profoundly moving.
Hold Back begins with word reaching Slimane's 40 (yes 40) brothers about her recent engagement to Dorcy. The brothers have to decide how they will avenge the family's honour and restore their place within this expatriate community, since any marriage between an Algerian girl and an African man is strictly forbidden and considered to be an insult to the family.
This fresh breezy feature by Djaidani, known primarily in France as an author, not only manages to explore the prejudice immigrant communities commonly face from their hosts in modern day France but also highlights the hostility that often exists between the communities themselves. In many cases communities who happily live side by side, educate their children at the same schools and who would consider themselves lifelong friends, such taboos continue to exist, particularly with regard to a marriage between an Algerian girl and an African man.
As one character points out, in order to show respect, a prospective groom must ask permission of the girl's father even while knowing full well that this same father will, of course, say no. The director states: "Through a love story, I wanted to highlight the hypocrisy that sometimes exists between blacks and second generation North Africans...