A classic star-crossed-romance-cum-travelogue set in thealluring capital of Yemen, Bader Ben Hirsi's A New Day In OldSana'a skims over the lives of a doomed couple in a restrictive society.
Fascinating forits glimpses into the lives of women in one of the Arab world's poorestcountries, it may prove too light for pure arthouse consumption,although it will undoubtedly find its own Arab audience (it won best Arab filmat Cairo and has also played Dubai) and prove irresistible to armchairtravelers.
Although it iscurrently without a sales agent, A NewDay In Old Sana'a also stands a strong chance ofbeing picked up and traveling, if not on a lavish scale.
The first-everfilm from Yemen - a country not known for its libertarian outlook towards thearts - was never going to take a warts-and-all perspective on the country.Given that the film's set was stormed and the original choice of lead actorstabbed, A New Day In Old Sana'a isstill a courageous first step, ostensibly telling the story of Tariq (Saber), but really looking at the women who live on Sana'a's ancient cobbled streets.
Ben Hirsi, the UK-born son of Yemeni parents, distances Sana'asomewhat from the audience by relaying the action through Federico (Romano, speakingEnglish mostly), an Italian photographer who acts as the film's narrator and isthe key cause of a pivotal scene. This shortcut enables Ben Hirsito do away with lengthy expositions, but it puts the film's characters at arm'slength.
Tariq is Federico's assistant. He is unsureabout his forthcoming nuptials to the town beauty Bilquis(Khoder) - not that he's aware of her looks, as sheis robed in black from head to toe outside her house - when he sees a vision ofgorgeousness dancing on the street in the dark on his way to early-morningmosque.
He mistakes herfor the spoiled Bilquis and thinks his dreams areabout to be answered. But the woman is actually henna (or nagash)artist Ines (Hammoud), longin love with Tariq - and the stage is set for aclassic romantic yarn.
This is of lessinterest, however, than the subplots involving the town's gossips, egg seller Amal (Alasbahi) and her clients,and the strict etiquette that govern the interaction between men and women inthis medieval-looking city.
Ben Hirsi touches lightly on these - deftly, indeed, and obviouslyunder some constraints - but the impression he leaves is that there is much moreto be said on the subject. The women themselves seem resolutely simple for thecountry's capital city, but this could also be down to the mixed actingabilities among Ben Hirsi's cast (some of whom arenon-professional).
Technical creditsare strong, courtesy of Lebanese cinematographer Muriel Aboulrouss,who memorably brings to light this unexpectedly beautiful part of the world.
Felix Films Entertainment
Yemen Media Centre Pictures
c/o Felix Films Entertainment
(44) 20 8870 7485
(44) 7765 866 785