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5 Great Movies About LGBT Middle Easterners

By Halim Cillov | /Bent July 1, 2014 at 4:12PM

Here's 5 great movies about LGBT folks from the Middle East.
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"The Bubble"
"The Bubble"

Recovering from your Pride weekends? Consider watching some films about LGBT people living in a world potentially quite different from your own:


1. "The Bubble" (Ha-Buah).  Director: Eytan Fox.
Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’s bittersweet festival favorite The Bubble is not only a political tour de force but it is also one of the most touching and poignant love stories that ever hit the silver screen.

While doing his mandatory army service at an Israeli checkpoint, brooding Noam meets and falls in love with a charismatic Palestinian, Ashraf. With the help of his two bohemian roommates, Noam smuggles Ashraf into Tel Aviv and an intense love affair blossoms between these two polar opposites. However, when the harsh realities of Israeli-Palestine conflict burst their cozy bubble, both Noam and Ashraf make life-altering decisions that lead to an explosive finale…

More than just a sappy story of star-crossed lovers, The Bubble is a bold and honest exploration of race, otherization, sexuality and politics inside the war-torn Middle East. With quirky dialogue, top-notch acting and a killer indie soundtrack, The Bubble is a must-see for every Cinephile. 

"Circumstance"
"Circumstance"

2. "Circumstance." Director: Maryam Keshavarz.

Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance is an explicit and haunting coming-of-age drama that profoundly depicts the damaging psychosocial effects of oppressive fundamentalist politics on the youth in contemporary Iran. 

Atafeh is a teenage girl living in Tehran with her liberal parents and her older, fresh-out-of-rehab brother, Mehran. As expected from teenagers, both Atafeh and her best friend, Shireen, are curious about sex and nightlife; they frequent lush private parties, underground bars and experiment with drugs. As a result of various drug-fueled escapades, the girls come to a realization that their feelings for each other run much deeper than friendship. However, this triggers a chain reaction of events that destroy Atafeh’s crumbling family and her fragile bond with Shireen.

In Circumstance, from kaleidoscopic underground nightclubs to hedonistic house gatherings, from dingy police stations to the placid countryside, Keshavarz takes the viewer on a magic carpet ride through Tehran, which was never explored this delicately in Cinema before. In that regard, this is a spectacular love poem for Tehran.

On the other hand, this is a chilling and all too real portrait of how the oppressive Islamic regime in Iran can claim minds coming from even the most liberal backgrounds. Through the use of recurring motifs and gut-wrenching plot twists, this movie says something attention worthy about Iran’s current fundamentalist regime and its destructive effects on the impressionable mind of the youth, all the while depicting the contemporary political climate of Iran in a neorealist style without ever really villainizing anyone. 

"Lola et Bilidikid"
"Lola et Bilidikid"

3. "Lola and Billy the Kid" (Lola + Billidikid). Director: Kutlug Ataman

Written and directed by the Carnegie Prize winner conceptual artist Kutlug Ataman, Lola and Billy the Kid is a dark and twisted melodrama that takes place entirely in the microcosm of Turkish immigrants living in Germany.

Murat, the youngest son of a conservative Turkish family, is struggling with his sexuality as well as with the demands of his patriarchal older brother. When Murat meets with Lola – his estranged brother who now is a drag queen – and her macho Turkish lover, Billy the Kid, he finds himself drawn into a dangerous new world. As Murat’s road to self-discovery takes him deeper and deeper into Berlin’s seedy gay underworld, various murky family secrets are revealed and we are introduced to a motley-crew of vividly three dimensional LGBT characters who are all struggling to find a place in a savagely heteronormative world.

At times over-the-top and utterly disturbing, this Fassbinder-esque drama is surely not everyone’s cup of tea. However, underneath its bleak façade, Lola and Billy the Kid is a modern fable about acceptance, family ties and unconditional love. 

"Three Dancing Slaves"
"Three Dancing Slaves"

4. "Three Dancing Slaves." Director: Gaël Morel.

Through a subtle, Cinema-Verite style, in this art-house gem, director Gaël Morel creates a succinct roman-fleuves that is as inspiring as it is unsettling. Shot in a working-class neighborhood in Annecy, France, Three Dancing Slaves focuses on the lives of three Algerian brothers who are trying to keep their family together after the recent death of their mother.

Marc is a volatile thug, who is in trouble with a local gang. His sensitive younger brother, Olivier, is just beginning to discover his budding homosexuality and their oldest brother, Christophe, is struggling to get a job after being released from prison. As the trio come of age against the backdrop of gang wars and economic inequalities, what unfolds is an elegant cine-essay about a family on the verge of a breakdown.  

5. "A Jihad for Love." Director: Parvez Sharma.

This controversial documentary looks into the lives of gay and lesbian Muslims from a selection of diverse countries, including Iran, Egypt, India, Turkey, Pakistan, Canada and South Africa. Openly-gay Muslim filmmaker Parvez Sharma’s ambitious project was shot in twelve countries, in nine languages, and it features interviews with dozens of gays and lesbians who all happen to be extremely devoted followers of Islam. For these people, life is anything but simple since every day they have to confront raging homophobia of their respective Islamic cultures.

Sharma closely and subjectively follow his subjects and this results in an emotionally-charged documentary that captures intimate moments such as a lesbian couples first visit to their in-laws and an asylum-seeking gay couples’ official arrival to their haven, Canada. At a time, when people are still using religion to condemn LGBT people, it is both refreshing and thought-provoking to see LGBT people who dare to stand up for their faith, even it means risking their own lives in the process.