Palestinian film draws praise as Cannes stars take discreet stances on Gaza war

The war raging in Gaza has given added prominence to director Mahdi Fleifel’s drama “To a Land Unknown”, the only Palestinian film to be screened in Cannes this year. While festival organisers have reined in protests, filmmakers, actors and activists have sought to shed light on the plight of Gaza’s population and the hostages still held in the war-ravaged Palestinian enclave.

“To a Land Unknown”, Fleifel’s fiction debut, opens with a quote by the Palestinian scholar Edward Said: “It’s a sort of fate of Palestinians not to end up where they started, but somewhere unexpected and far away.”

Spoken decades ago, Said’s words capture the tragedy of a stateless people whose diaspora outnumbers those left behind. They acquire added resonance today as Palestinians in Gaza seek refuge from Israel's devastating military offensive, unleashed in response to the October 7 attacks carried out by Hamas.

The only Palestinian film in Cannes this year, Fleifel’s movie premiered on Wednesday in the Directors’ Fortnight, which runs parallel to the festival. It follows two exiled cousins yearning for a fresh start in a social-realist drama that was warmly received by film critics at the French Riviera gathering.

'Haunted by exile’

Fleifel said the film’s script was inspired by the experiences of exiles he met while filming a previous documentary.

The filmmaker, who grew up in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, said he was “haunted” by stories that echoed Chatila and Reda’s. He described himself as “an exiled filmmaker who makes films about exile”.

Read more on FRANCE 24 English

Read also:
‘The Apprentice’ director shrugs off threat of Trump lawsuit over explosive Cannes biopic
Argentinian film workers rally in Cannes as President Milei takes chainsaw to movie industry
At Cannes Film Festival, too, Ukraine battles on