The first feature film to be shot in Yemen, A New Day in Old Sana’a is a slightly uneven tale about a young groom who, after seeing a woman who he thinks is his fiance dancing in the street one morning, falls madly in love with her, only to discover that it is a different woman entirely. As director Bader Ben Hirsi works on exploring the cultural ramifications of such a situation in this dramatic comedy, he also makes great use of the exquisite historic city of Old Sana’a.

The blend of English and Arabic dialogue is an interesting addition to the film’s presentation, though the narration throughout gets a little tedious as our somewhat omniscient narrator makes discoveries and questions events. The core of the story is solid, though maybe a little tired: a rich young man torn between true love with a poor woman or a fixed marriage with the eldest daughter of a powerful judge. What sets this film apart from the typical star-crossed lovers storyline, though, is the addition of Muslim sensibilities and the question of whether the young man can throw thousands of years of tradition aside for his own happiness.

The acting is not especially memorable and though many comedic bits work rather well, a few fall quite flat due to a lack of timing. It is also intriguing to see most of the female cast have their faces covered by veils throughout the majority of the film. This gives a realistic feeling to the film’s setting and helps the audience relate to the internal struggles of the romantic lead.

The overall result, though, is a mixed bag. The ending is a bit weak and open-ended while a strange subplot with a professor being plagued by a girl’s shriek after he punishes her by slapping her wrist with a ruler and several lingering shots of the Italian narrator (who has a very British accent) on a rooftop working out seem extremely out of place and definitely detract from the film’s otherwise reality-based story. Ultimately the story plays out well, but it’s clear that this film could have benefitted from a little more production guidance.

Zach’s Rating: C+
Perfect For: A visual tour of a historic Yemeni city
Stay Away if: Foreign comedy/dramas are not high up on your list of films to see

To purchase A New Day in Old Sana’a, visit Arab Film Distribution

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