‘Norah,’ Saudi Arabia’s first Cannes Film Festival entry, makes international debut

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The Saudi film ‘Norah,’ Saudi Arabia’s maiden entry into the Cannes Film Festival, was screened on Thursday for international audiences for the very first time at the 77th edition of the festival.

The film was screened at Cannes’ prestigious Un Certain Regard, “a certain look,” section – a significant symbol of the Kingdom’s rapidly growing film industry following the lifting of a 35-year-old ban on cinema in 2017.

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“Norah,” a drama by director Tawfik al-Zaidi set in the 1990s, premiered locally at the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah last December.

It tells the story of an illiterate, orphaned young woman who lives in a remote village in Saudi Arabia. She faces an arranged marriage, feels trapped, and searches for a source of self-expression. Played by rising Saudi star Maria Bahrawi, Nora has a chance encounter with an artist named Nader — played by Saudi actor Yaqoub al-Farhan — who has given up painting and moved to the village to be a schoolteacher.

Their meeting unleashes Norah’s passion for art during the height of the country’s conservatism when all forms of art and painting were banned.

Norah – the first Saudi film to be shot in the ancient city of AlUla — won the top prize of a funding award from the Saudi Film Commission’s Daw Film Competition.

Saudi citizens made up at least 40 percent of the film’s crew, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture launched the initiative in September 2019 to support Saudi film production and promote the next generation of filmmakers.

The film, which has received international distribution, is scheduled to premiere in Saudi and international theaters on June 20, 2024.

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