Closing weekend at DIFF

Dubai, United Arab Emirates


The closing weekend up DIFF flew by faster than the whole week before it. Both Madinat Jumeirah and Mall of the Emirates were packed all day on Friday and Saturday with people trying to see the last film screenings of the festival. Although I had a number of films I wanted to see on Friday, many of them were on stand-by. I even tried to make it in the stand-by line to see The Lunchbox, which was my number one recommended foreign film of the festival to see, but when I got there an hour early the line was already tremendously long.

I did end up getting to see one of the other foreign film’s I had wanted to see, Class Enemy. A Slovenian film by first time feature director Rok Bicek, Class Enemy centers around a class of high school students who get a strict new teacher during the year, and shortly after, one of the students commits suicide. As the students deal with their changing emotions over their friend’s death, the tension rises between them and the school staff.

I found the film to be very powerful in an unexpected way. It’s written to highlight the unstable dynamics of a group under the pressure and influence of forces out of their control. The young actors are all first timers, which is really impressive considering the emotions they portray. And the quality of editing and cinematography makes it a film that could have easily been from any of the leading countries in filmmaking.

After a week of film’s from all over the world, DIFF decided to close the festival with the new Hollywood film by director David O. Russell, American Hustle. As much as I loved the film, I don’t think it would have been as exciting had it not been introduced by some very special people.

While filing into the seats of the enormous Madinat Arena, they played a number of songs from the film’s soundtrack. The first speaker from the film’s production was music supervisor Susan Jacobs. She said she was challenged to find the right music for the film, but I think she completed the task flawlessly, as the movie’s soundtrack is definitely one of the highlights of the film. One of the most memorable tracks however is Mayssa Karaa’s arabic cover of Jefferson Airplane’s song White Rabbit. Jacob’s introduced Mayssa Karaa, who then gave the audience a live preview of the song. I will admit this was one of my favorite moments of the whole festival. There was an almost electric air about the room as she belted out the song, blending two cultures and time periods with rock and roll, for cinema. It was fantastic.

Next, Producer’s Matthew Budman and Charles Roven introduced David O. Russell, who then talked about the privilege of showing his film at DIFF. He also noted that Dubai was one of the first audiences around the world to view the film, and the only festival where it was screened.

I felt, after all the hype, that it was going to be hard for American Hustle to live up to it. But in my opinion, it did. It might have been the fact that it was the closing gala film of a great festival, or that the movie somehow managed to incorporate a “Sheikh” from Abu Dhabi, or that it was screened with such a diverse group of people in the film industry, but I loved American Hustle. It goes right alongside Russell’s previous work. It’s funny and intense in all the right places. The cast is outstanding and directed to accentuate their characters’ wackiness. I particularly enjoyed the new more hand-held style of cinematography employed where the camera often got claustrophobically close to the actors, and then at other times pulled quickly away from them, creating a kind of anxious tango between the actors and audience in each scene. And then with the costumes and set design, American Hustle is unreservedly transportive to the sleazy glitz and glam of the late 70‘s. Aside from all that though, Russell’s talent for telling stories about genuinely flawed, but completely relatable people, is ultimately what makes American Hustle such a success. It was truly a perfect film to end the festival.

The ending of DIFF has been bittersweet. It was so fulfilling to spend a week reveling in some of the best filmmaking of the year in such a dynamic city as Dubai. Yet, I’m sad it will be another year until such a collaboration occurs here again. Until then, many of the films from the festival will be out in theaters. So, that’s where I’ll be, trying to extend the elation I’ve felt this week for as long as I can. By Sara Castillo. 

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