Home » Blog » The 10 Best Levantine Films You’ve Never Heard Of

The 10 Best Levantine Films You’ve Never Heard Of

For starters, all of the films mentioned here also have English subtitles. I know you were wondering… 🙂

Let’s hop in!

One of the hardest aspects of learning Arabic is the lack of clear resources, especially if you’re learning Arabic solo. One part of this issue is the insane challenge of 1) finding Levantine Arabic films and 2) finding films that also have English subtitles.

There are a ton of Levantine Arabic films out there, but many of these movies only premiere at film festivals, making it nearly impossible for Arabic learners like you and me to get a hold of them.

This is why I am here to help! I have scavenged the ends of the earth some of the best Arabic films out there that also have subtitles. I will be differentiating among them based on Southern vs. Northern Levantine dialects too, in case you’re immersing in content from specific countries. 

Five Best Northern Levantine Movies (Lebanon and Syria)

  1. Capernaum (كفرناحوم)

Directed by Nadine Labaki, Capernaum, is set in the slums of Beirut and ties so many important Lebanese social issues into one storyline. In Capernaum, you see the economic dynamics of poor Lebanese and Syrian refugees, the life challenges of foreign domestic workers from Africa, as well as the family dynamics and struggles of poor Lebanese people. This is by far the best movie I have ever seen because the movie is so well done and brings in real-life problems that Lebanon faces today. Just be prepared to have tissues next to you when you watch it because it is a tear-jerker.

Find this film for purchasing on Youtube, Amazon, or Apple TV.

  1. West Beirut (بيروت الغربية)

Directed by Ziad Doueiri, West Beirut, came out post-Civil War in 1998 and tells a coming-of-age tale of a group of young Lebanese high schoolers. This movie follows a young high schooler, Tarek, who likes to create Super 8 films with his friends. West Beirut creates a film of the Lebanese Civil War through teenagers’ eyes. Although a bit old school in feel, West Beirut, is probably one of the most well-known Arabic movies out there.

Find this film on Netflix.

  1. For Sama (إلى سما) 

Directed by Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts, For Sama, tells a first-hand account of five years of Waad’s life in Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War. Waad captures her experiences of falling in love, marriage, and having a child all throughout dealing with the Syrian Civil War, and in Aleppo of all places. This documentary is heartbreaking but gives you a perspective of the Syrian Civil War that most never had before. This movie is  shot from Waad’s point of view from behind her camera, but you get a true and unnarrated dialogue throughout the movie, which is great for Arabic listening and comprehension practice.

Find this film on Netflix.

  1. Caramel (سكر بنات) 

Directed also by Nadine Labaki, Caramel, is set in Beirut and follows five women friends who are dealing with issues of forbidden love, oppressed sexuality, cultural expectations, aging, and more. Caramel is a great romantic comedy that also takes on issues women face daily in Lebanon. Caramel is also perfect for listening and comprehension practice, plus you can laugh while you practice!

Find this film on Youtube for free here.

  1. Ghadi (غدي)

Directed by Amin Dora, Ghadi, was written by George Khabbaz who also stars as the main character in the movie, as the father of Ghadi. Ghadi is set in a small village in Lebanon and shares the story of a father who has a child (Ghadi) who was born with Down Syndrome. Ghadi has some habits that the village finds irritable and they threaten to kick Ghadi out if the family doesn’t do anything about it. As a result, Ghadi’s father comes up with an elaborate scheme to make the village believe Ghadi is actually an angel. This is one of the cutest, most wholesome movies I have ever seen and the story behind it makes it even better. George Khabbaz, decided to write this movie after working in Lebanon with children who suffered from Down Syndrome, especially because of the negative stereotypes  Lebanese society has about disabled people. I love this movie so much because it not only tells a feel-good story, but also highlights the intolerance that disabled people face in Lebanon and all over the world. The Arabic dialect used in the movie is very Lebanese and very “villager”, but with subtitles, you will be able to gain more exposure to a wider range of Lebanese dialects.

Find this film on Netflix.

Five Best Southern Levantine Movies (Jordan, Palestine)

  1. Captain Abu Raed (كابتن أبو رائد)

Directed and written by Amin Matalqa, Captain Abu Raed, is one of the first feature films from Jordan in over 50 years. The film is set in Amman and follows a lonely janitor who works at Queen Alia Airport. After finding a pilots’ hat at the airport, he brings it home and convinces the neighborhood kids that he is a pilot and world traveler. In the end, he helps change the life of one child in particular. As you may know, I spent a great deal of time in Amman, but one of the disappointing things is that there are few movies made in Jordan. This is why Captain Abu Raed is so special to me. This is one of the few films where one can solely practice the Jordanian dialect. 

Find this film on Amazon Prime.

  1. Blessed Benefit (إن شاء الله استفدت)

Directed by Mahmoud Al Masssad, Blessed Benefit, is a jail-house comedy that follows a construction worker who makes a bad business deal that ends him up in jail. Al Masssad produced and directed this movie based on the lead character who is played by Ahmad Thaher, whose real-life story inspired the film. This film is a great laugh and I love it because it is one of the few films created by Jordanians and made in Jordanian dialect. This movie is also special because my husband’s cousin actually stars in the movie as Ahmad’s cousin. 

Find this film on Netflix.

  1. Sand Storm (عاصفة رملية)

Directed by Elite Zexer, Sand Storm, tells a story of the forbidden love that a Bedouin girl has and how her and her mother dare to change it. This movie highlights the patriarchal culture of Bedouins, but also takes on general social norms in the MENA region. I find this movie a go-to because it is a dramatic love story and takes on important social issues that many women face in the region. You might find some difficulty with the dialect because it is based in a Palestinian villager’s accent.

Find this film on Netflix.

  1. The Judge (القاضية)

Directed by Erika Cohn, The Judge, follows Kholoud Al-Faqih, a Palestinian judge, in her journey to becoming the first female Sharia judge in the country. This documentary is one of the newest Arabic movies I have watched, and so far one of my favorite Arabic movies. This movie really highlights how Kholoud is not only the first female Sharia judge in Palestine, but one of the first female Sharia judges in the whole MENA region. I find this movie interesting too because many people think of Palestine as more conservative than other Middle Eastern Arab countries, but Kholoud challenges that idea. This movie uses a lot more technical/work-related words in the Palestinian dialect, but it is good practice for those of you who wish to use Arabic at work someday.

Find this film on Amazon Prime.

  1. Amreeka (امريكا)

Directed by Cherien Dabis, Amreeka, follows a Palestinian single mom and her son’s journey as new immigrants in Indiana. This is a great movie for Arabic beginners because the movie is a mix of Arabic and English, and highlights the perspectives of new Arab immigrants in America. I loved this movie because when I was just beginning to learn Arabic, this movie had the perfect amount of English and Arabic, and had a very cute storyline. 

Find this film on Amazon Prime.

There are many lists of “best” Levantine Arabic movies that I encourage you all to look up as there are many more good Levantine movies than those that I have mentioned here. (Also as a side note, Amazon Prime truly has the best selection of Arabic films.) Enjoy!

What do you think about the films I’ve mentioned here? Do you have any favorites that you would like to share?

Lily Hijazi-Sacay

Lily Hijazi-Sacay is an organizer for the teachers union in Minnesota, a wife, and an activist for humanitarian work. She’s been studying Arabic for over five years and met her husband in Amman, Jordan while studying abroad. For two years, she worked for the Jordanian Red Crescent and is fluent in the Jordanian Arabic Dialect and proficient in Fusha. In her free time, she enjoys cooking new dishes from around the world and refurbishing old furniture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *