Oscars: Saudi Arabia Selects 'Barakah Meets Barakah' for Foreign-Language Submission

Barakah Meets Barakah - Still 1 - TIFF-H 2016
Courtesy of TIFF

The rom-com will be the country's second-ever foreign-language entry, following Haifaa Al Mansour’s 'Wadjda' in 2013.

Barakah Meets Barakah, Saudi Arabia's first-ever romantic comedy, has been chosen as the country's official entry for the 2017 foreign-language film Oscar race.

The debut feature from writer-director Mahmoud Sabbagh is only the second-ever foreign-language Oscar contender from Saudi Arabia, following an Academy Award entry for Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda in 2013. Wadjda wasn't nominated for the Oscars but did pick up a BAFTA nomination for best foreign-language film.

Filmmaking was more or less banned in Saudi Arabia until only recently, but the country has embraced its up-and-coming talent.

“Mahmoud Sabbagh is a representative of a new generation who will soon be pioneers in the history of filmmaking in Saudi Arabia,” Sultan Al Bazie, head of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts and chairman of the nominating committee, said Wednesday in a statement. Noting that the third annual Saudi Film Festival in March had more than 70 submissions, Al Bazie said he was “optimistic that the next years will have more entries from Saudi Arabia” for the Oscars.

Barakah Meets Barakah follows the unlikely (and in the strict Islamic state, forbidden) romance between Bibi, a rich girl brought up on Western-style luxury, and Barakah, a working-class police man, who meet-cute at a photo shoot.

The film premiered in February at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it was a crowd-pleaser and critical favorite. “This easygoing charmer conceals some sharp political barbs,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter's Neil Young in his review.

Barakah Meets Barakah is more conventional than many entering the foreign-language race, something that could work for or against it among Academy voters.