In the past three years, controversy has become a brand name, hot enough to sell any film regardless of its actual quality. The Passion of the Christ, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Da Vinci Code and Yacoubian Building are prime examples.
This year is no exception. Big productions like 300 and Sicko grossed millions of dollars, mainly due to the heavy buzz surrounding their subject matter. Similarly, small pictures such as 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, and Persepolis were instantly picked up by major distributors following their screening in Cannes.
Nevertheless, the trick showed a substantial waning as a considerable number of movies including Captivity, Hostel 2, The Banishment, Rendition and many others were box-office flops.
The contentious movie formula did not mean a sure box-office hit this year, however. Conventionality and insipidity are the only guarantee to hitting the jackpot while divisiveness remains a quality only visionaries dare to assume.
5) Lust, CautionFollowing the massive hype surrounding his last infamous work Brokeback Mountain, Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee spurred another controversy with Lust, Caution.
Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai and newcomer Wei Tang, the film featured 20 minutes of slightly explicit and violent sex between the two leads. The film s parent company Focus Features refused to tone down the intensity of these scenes. Consequently, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) slammed it with an NC-17 rating, drastically reducing its commercial potential.
Against the odds, the film managed to garner a respectable $5 million at the box-office. Internationally, Lust was a smash hit, winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Festival and topping the Chinese box-office for weeks after the fiery scenes were trimmed down.
4) The Golden CompassThe highly-anticipated adaptation of Philip Pullman s popular fantasy series starring Nicole Kidman was widely conceived as the author s atheist response to Catholicism.
Although most of the overt anti-Catholic plotlines were removed from the final version of the film, the Catholic Church encouraged its members to boycott it. Kidman, herself a Catholic, declared that she would not have participated in the film if she felt it was offensive to Christians.
Kidman s defense fell on deaf ears and the $180 million production was the biggest bomb of the year, scooping less than $60 million in the US.
3) Heya Fawda (Is it Chaos?)The fact that the protagonist of Youssef Chahine s latest political drama is a sadistic, tyrant police officer was not a cause for concern initially. However, after multiple high profile torture cases started to unravel this year, Chahine and his co-director Khaled Youssef found themselves in hot water.
Prior to the film s release, rumors regarding conflicts with censorship, who demanded the anti-government tirade be toned down, splattered the pages of opposition newspapers. The publicity worked magic, creating stupendous curiosity for the film. Heya Fawda grossed more than LE 10 million in less than a month, becoming the sleeper hit of the year and the most successful movie of Chahine s 57-year-old career.
2) Salata Baladi (Oriental Salad)Youssef Chahine s assistant director Nadia Kamel was accused of being a traitor the moment her first documentary feature debuted in the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi.
Kamel s film follows her half-Jewish mother as she travels to Israel to visit her Jewish relatives for the first time in 55 years. Most members of the Egyptian press opened fire on Kamel for creating a film that advocates normalization with Israel.
Independent filmmaker Ibrahim El Batout was also condemned for traveling to Israel with Kamel, and a number of journalists called on the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) committee to prevent his film from participating in the Digital Competition.
The backlash had little effect on the film, drawing hundreds of fans during its screening at the Goethe Institute and eventually becoming the independent hit of the year.
1) The Band s VisitNo other film generated the as much controversy as the award-winning Israeli comedy this year. Band revolves around an Egyptian police force brass band that travels to Israel on a diplomatic mission and gets lost in a small town. Hailed by critics everywhere as one of the best films of the year, reports of the film s participation in the Middle East Festival and CIFF sparked a storm of assault against the committees of both festivals.
Reports claimed that the Abu Dhabi festival committee banned the film – which features a love scene between an Egyptian man and an Israeli woman – after the Egyptian Actors Association threatened to boycott the festival if the film was screened.
CIFF President Ezzat Abou Ouf affirmed the no Israeli film shall participate in the festival as long as he remains president. Members of the festival committee confessed that they haven t seen the film.
Initial reviews from Al Ahram daily critics following the film s screening in Cannes were positive. One critic even suggested the film should be allowed to be screened in Egypt.