Five Films Inspired by Middle Eastern Events
The Middle East can spawn not just amazing actors, but also inspiring stories. And not just the atypical tales of war and violence, but of great character, comedy and political significance. Here are five films based on true events of the Middle East that are worth checking out.
Ben Affleck’s award winning film Argo was based on the CIA operation in Iran that became known as the Canadian Caper. CIA officer Tony Mendez (Affleck) leads a covert mission to rescue six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis of the late-70s/early-80s. Mendez was successful at getting in and out of the country under the guise of producing a fake science fiction film. The film has been up for debate on the political tensions between nations and who had the most influence on the operation, but the mission itself is a unique one during such an intense moment in Iranian history.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Persepolis tells the true story of Marjane Satrapi and how she grew up during the Iranian revolution. The story follows her from a childhood where she embraced the revolution to her teenage years when she rebelled to her college years abroad. Produced by twenty animators, the animation retains Marjane’s black-and-white style from the comics while still being fluid and inventive. The film bodes well as a snapshot of one woman’s perspective during the revolution, as well as being an all-encompassing portrait of a woman that experienced the frustrations of authority, the freedom of being honest and the odd sensations of maturing. For being so astonishingly human and vivid, the film was nominated for the Academy Award of Best Animated Film.
Rock the Kasbah
Barry Levinson’s music-themed comedy Rock the Kasbah is loosely based on the controversial events of Afghanistan’s reality competition show Afghan Star, in which Setara Hussainzada danced without her hijab. The film finds washed-up agent Richie (Bill Murray) lost in Kabul, but amazed to discover the singing talents of Salima (Leem Lubany). Richie risks his life through hostile areas to make sure that Salima’s voice doesn’t remain hidden and makes it onto Afghanistan television. The production was dedicated to Hussainzada, replicating the controversy of her character that can be seen in the 2009 documentary Afghan Star.
Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up is the compelling story of one man pretending to be famed director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and conning some amateur actors. Part documentary and part fictional experiment, the people involved in this scheme appear as themselves in the picture. With its engaging editing and fascinating subject matter of cinema and identity, Close-Up quickly became a darling of festivals and was revered by critics for Kiarostami’s direction.
Even more meta than Close-Up is Rosewater, based on the events of the 2009 Iranian election and the clash with the press. It was directed by Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program The Daily Show that played a key role in the detainment of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari. Believed to be an American spy for an obvious parody piece, Bahari was held and tortured for 118 days. Stewart’s script manages to balance the political of the election with Bahari’s madness of being imprisoned for such a silly segment. Though Bahari does not play himself in the movie, interviewer Jason Jones does reprise his role as a Daily Show member.