Morocco and Saudi Arabia were the last Arab countries to submit their films for the 2021 Academy Award for Best International Film.
Morocco's entry is a drama film titled The Unknown Saint, while Saudi Arabia submitted Scales.
The Unknown Saint (Le Miracle du Saint Inconnu) is written and directed by Alaa Eddine Aljem.
The film follows “a criminal who returns to the fake grave where he buried his loot years before and discovers that it has become the shrine of an unknown saint and a thriving little village,” the brief on IMDb reveals.
The film stars Younes Bouab, Salah Ben Saleh, Bouchaib Semmak, Mohammed Nouaimane, and Anas Al-Baz.
The Unknown Saint participated in several international film festivals, garnering many nominations. It won Best Sound and Best First Feature at the 2020 Tangier International Film Festival. It also won the Youth Jury Award for Best film at the 2019 Valladolid International Film Festival.
Morocco submitted its first film to the Oscars in 1977, which was Blood Wedding by Souheil Ben-Barka. The country then waited until 1988 to submit the second film, Mektoub by Nabil Ayouch. The following years saw almost yearly submissions.
The Unknown Saint is Alaa Eddine Aljem’s first feature film and his first work to be submitted to the Oscars.
Still from The Unknown Saint
Saudi Arabia chose Scales, written and directed by Shahad Ameen, as its submission to the Oscars.
“Set in a dystopian landscape, Scales is the story of a young strong-willed girl, Hayat, who lives in a poor fishing village governed by a dark tradition in which every family must give one daughter to the sea creatures who inhabit the waters nearby. In turn the sea creatures are hunted by the men of the village. Saved from this fate by her father, Hayat is considered a curse on the village and grows up as an outcast,” reads the brief posted on IMDb.
The film stars Basima Hajjar, Yaaqoub Al-Farhan, Abdulaziz Shtian, and Ibrahim Al-Hasawi.
The film won Tanit d'Bronze at the 2019 Carthage Film Festival, Best Asian Feature Film at the 2019 Singapore International Film Festival, and Verona Film Club Award at the 2019 Venice Film Fetsival. It was also nominated to numerous awards at other international festivals.
Scales is Saudi Arabia’s fourth film to be submitted to the Oscars in the country's whole history.
The previous three films include two directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour: Wadjda, submitted in 2013, and The Pefect Candidate in 2019; and Barakah Meets Barakah by Mahmoud Sabbagh in 2016.
Still from Scales
Added this last December, these two entries bring the total of Arab films submitted to nine entries.
Other Arab countries which have already submitted their films include Egypt with When We're Born, directed by Tamer Ezzat; Algeria’s Heliopolis, by Djaâfar Gacem; Tunisia’s The Man Who Sold His Skin, directed by Kaouther Ben Hania; Broken Keys, directed by Jimmy Keyrouz from Lebanon; Gaza Mon Amour by Tarzan Nasser and Arab Nasser from Palestine; 200 Meters by Ameen Nayfeh from Jordan; and You Will Die at Twenty by Amjad Abu Alala, being the first-ever Sudanese contender for the Academy Awards.