By Sarah Mills
BERLIN, Feb 21 – 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 Al Banawi), the adopted daughter of a rich couple.
Despite their different class backgrounds, the two set about trying to meet up, which is not easy in a country where women’s activities are strictly controlled.
Actor Hisham Fageeh, who has a background in comedy, hopes the film gives an insight into Saudi life.
“A city like Jeddah gives a really fresh image on how people should see Saudi Arabia and it’s a very honest depiction,” he said.
Following the film‘s screening actress Fatima Al Banawi, who plays Bibi, spoke to some women from Saudi Arabia who were in the audience and was delighted the movie resonated with them.
“If the girls in Saudi feel that they can relate and they could laugh at … Bibi’s experiences and her own struggles, it would be basically the point of the film,” she said.