1 About Elly
Dir Asghar Farhadi (G) G
Having picked up Best Picture at this year’s Tribeca, much is expected of Iranian director Farhadi’s tale of a college reunion trip gone wrong. It stars Golshifteh Farahani in her first film to be screened in Iran since her appearance in the contentious Body Of Lies (after which it was rumoured she was prevented from leaving Iran by the authorities). She plays Sepidah, who brings along her daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Elly, for the trip. But, when he goes missing, suspicion and half truths derail the fun. A fantastic portrait of modern Iran.
October 15, Emirates Palace, 4pm; October 17, 3.45pm, Cinestar 1.
2 No One Knows About Persian Cats
Dir Bahman Ghobadi (G) G
With Iran increasingly becoming the festival’s favourite muse, this daring film takes a slantwise look at the illegal world of Tehran’s independent music scene. It follows Negar and Ashkan, young musicians who find that pursuing their art is near-impossible on home soil, so they forge plans to escape. Gritty and fast-paced, Ghobadi’s film paints a vivid portrait of this hidden world.
October 15, Emirates Palace, 7pm.
3 Scheherazade, Tell Me A Story
Dir Yousry Nasrallah (15+) G
A surprisingly forthright critique of male chauvinism in the Middle East, Egyptian director Nasrallah’s taboo-breaking film reportedly scandalised Egypt with its risky portrait of female sexual desire. The film borrows the story-within-a-story framework of Arabian Nights, but uses it to paint several female tales of woe striking the Egyptian male ego right where it hurts. Go sister!
October 15, Emirates Palace, 10pm.
4 The Men Who Stare At Goats
Dir Grant Heslov (15+) G
The festival’s closing-night film, journalist Jon Ronson’s caustic investigation into the US army’s adoption of New Age psychological techniques, developed in the early ’80s and revived for the conflict in Iraq, makes a rocky transition to the big screen. Ewan McGregor plays the Ronson character, renamed Bob Wilton, who, having been dumped by his wife, decides to prove himself by heading to the Middle East in search of a story. Through a series of contrivances, he finds George Clooney’s reactivated ‘psychic spy’, Lyn Cassady, who believes he has been summoned to the Iraqi desert for a new, secret mission. Grant Heslov has gone Coens-esque on the direction front, often lunging for the quick, deadpan laugh to the detriment of the grim subtext. Ronson’s story was about paranoia and the desperate lengths that certain governments will go to in the name of national security. This is about a bunch of crazy stuff at which we can all chuckle. As that sort of movie, it works just fine.
October 17, Emirates Palace, 8pm.
5 The Traveller
Dir Ahmed Maher (15+) G
The return of 77-year-old Omar Sharif marks one of the more dramatic comebacks this MEIFF. Set against the backdrop of key moments in Egypt’s recent history, Sharif plays Hassan, a lost, ageing man who bumps into an old flame and attempts to become part of her family. As a parable for modern Egypt, it has the critics drooling, but the performance by Sharif is surely the star of the show and the reason this is the opening night film.
October 8, Emirates Palace, 8pm.
Dir Lee Daniels (18+)
Given the backing of African-American royalty Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, the success of Precious (which scooped the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance) was not unexpected. Far more surprising is the presence of both Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz in cameo roles. Given the dramatic nature of the film – an obese black American teenager, twice impregnated by her father, rails against her abusive mother – it’s hardly the stuff of celebrity walk-ons. Yet Lee Monster’s Ball Daniels’ film withstands the bumbling musicians to be utterly harrowing and a definite must-see.
October 12, 6.30pm, Cinestar 4.
7 The Messenger
Dir Oren Moverman (18+) G
Moverman was the screenwriter behind hit-and-miss Dylan biopic I’m Not There, but in his directorial debut he tackles a more traumatic topic. An Iraq war veteran faces the emotional minefield of civilians dealing with the death of a loved one. It’s already picked up awards at the Deauville Film Festival; we expect it to be a hit here, too.
October 10, Emirates Palace, 9.30pm.
MEIFF runs from October 8-17. General screenings are Dhs20; gala screenings (marked with a red ‘G’) at Emirates Palace, Dhs30. Concessions pay Dhs10. A festival pass costs Dhs200. Buy tickets at www.meiff.com.