The growing list of Arab-language films and series on Netflix recently got a welcome addition: Palestinian director Elia Suleiman. In the world of streaming platforms, Mubi has positioned itself as the one that offers arthouse cinema. So it’s delight to find Suleiman’s award-winning features on Netflix.

As little digging around shows that there’s much more on the platform for viewers interested in Arab-language cinema. There are classics and contemporary films, documentaries, comedies and melodramas. Some of the critically acclaimed titles have been shown in India only at film festivals. The buzzworthy series include Al Rawabi School for Girls, set in a school for wealthy pupils.

Even as anything South Korean is all the craze, the Arab titles provide a window to a world closer and more familiar to our own. Here is a list of 11 films available on Netflix in India.

Chronicle of a Disappearance

Elia Suleiman’s cinema channels absurdist comedy, performance art and Arab memories of occupation, exile and civil war. Born and raised in Nazareth in Israel, Suleiman spent several years in New York. His films explore the condition of Palestinian statelessness and his physical, psychological and political distance from his homeland.

Inspired by the deadpan maestros Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, Suleiman appears in his own films as a mostly mute and granite-faced character who bears witness to everything between neighbourhood rows and border checkpoint flare-ups. Suleiman introduced his signature style in his accomplished debut Chronicle of a Disappearance in 1996 – long and unhurried takes, frontally filmed tableaux, droll humour, miniature portraits of ordinary Nazarenes.

The film comprises vignettes featuring catty neighbours, gossipy friends, Elia Suleiman and his elderly parents. Suleiman revisited some of the film’s themes in the moving The Time That Remains (2009), which isn’t available on Netflix.

Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996). Courtesy Dhat Films.

Suleiman is fond of creating time loops that are played over and over again. The episodes in Chronicle of a Disappearance are often separated by an intertitle that simply reads: “The following day.” Both elliptical and poignant, these shards of what is remembered as well as reconstructed by the act of remembering create a narrative mosaic as unpredictable as memory itself.

Also on Netflix is Divine Intervention (2002), which solidified Suleiman’s reputation in arthouse cinema. More overtly political than its predecessor, the film uses drollery to examine the tragedy of the loss of Palestinian identity. Through small and often comical acts of non-cooperation, the people of Palestine register their resistance to the overwhelming presence of the Israeli security apparatus in their lives.

There’s an Indian connection too. AR Rahman’s plangent theme music for Mani Ratnam’s Bombay perfectly suits a sequence about an unending line of cars winding their way through a security check post.

Cairo Station

Egyptian giant Youssef Chahine directed over 40 features between the 1950s and the 2000s. Netflix has 10 of them, including one of the most renowned, Cairo Station (1958). A great example of neorealist cinema, Cairo Station explores, through the relationship between a newspaper seller and a beverage vendor, poverty, sexual violence and crime among the working class in the Egyptian capital.

Also on Netflix by Chahine are Dark Waters, The Blazing Sun, The Land, Destiny, Saladin, The Other, Return of the Prodigal Sun, and the trilogy comprising Alexandria… Why?, An Egyptian Story and Alexandria Again and Forever. It’s a mini-retrospective. Non-Netflix subscribers can find some of these films on Mubi, including a few others (The Devil of the Desert, Daddy Amin).

Little Wars

Had Lebanese director Maroun Baghdadi not tragically died in an accident in 1993 at the age of 43, he might have totted up a respectable filmography. Netflix has four of Baghdadi’s best-known films, including his debut from 1975, Beirut Oh Beirut.

One of Baghdadi’s most well-loved films is Little Wars (1982). The film continues Baghdadi’s lifelong concern – the effects on citizens of the civil war in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990. Through a love triangle, Baghdadi explores the emotional and political response to trying times that frayed the social fabric and tore families apart.

Also on Netflix is Baghdadi’s documentary Whispers (1980), in which a cross-section of Lebanese citizens share their experiences of the civil war, and Out of Life (1991), about the kidnapping of a French photographer in Beirut.

Salt of This Sea

Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir’s third short film, Like Twenty Impossibles, earned a seat at the Cannes high table and marked her as a major Arab talent. The film is on Netflix, as is Jacir’s first feature, Salt of This Sea (2008). The thought-provoking drama follows the Palestinian-American woman Soraya, who arrives in Israel to claim a family inheritance. Soraya’s journey recalls the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, the term used by Palestinians to refer to their ouster from their homeland by Israeli settlers in 1948.

Salt of This Sea (2008).

Salt of This Sea stars Arab actor Saleh Bakri, who also featured in Jacir’s father-son drama Wajib (2007). For more on Bakri, head to the Oscar-nominated short film The Present, which provides a grim snapshot of life under occupation.

Under the Bombs

The lived experience of military conflict and civil war is a recurring feature in Arab-language productions. France-Lebanese filmmaker Philippe Aractingi’s Under the Bombs (2007) explores just this warped reality. Set amidst the 2006 war between Israel and the Islamist party Hezbollah, Under the Bombs traces a woman’s desperate attempt to find her sister and nephew with the help of a taxi driver.

Under the Bombs (2007).

Sand Storm

Sand Storm (2016) is an unusual production: an Arab-language drama directed by Jewish-Israeli filmmaker Elite Zexer and selected as Israel’s official entry for the foreign language Oscar. Set in the Bedouin community, the solidly performed film explores the twinned arcs of a woman who is making preparations to welcome her husband’s second wife and her daughter’s romance with a classmate.

Sand Storm (2016).


Equally unusual is Wadjda (2012) from Saudi Arabia. It is the first Saudi Arabian feature to be directed by a woman (Haifaa al-Mansour) and the first production to be filmed entirely in the kingdom.

Wadjda is the feelgood story of a 10-year-old girl who yearns to ride a bicycle, an activity that is forbidden for girls. Besides, the object of Wadjda’s desire is too expensive for her family. But that does not stop Wadjda from chasing her dream.

Wadjda (2013).

Barakah Meets Barakah

Also from Saudi Arabia is Mahmoud Sabbagh’s Barakah Meets Barakah (2016). The romcom follows the ardour that grows between a middle-class government official and a woman who is not only from a wealthy family but also challenges his notions about femininity and modernity. Light-hearted and cheerfully subversive, the movie is full of surprises.

Barakah Meets Barakah (2016).

The Unknown Saint

More Arab comedy, this time from Morocco. Alla Edine-Aljem’s droll comedy The Unknown Saint (2019) explores blind faith and spiritual redemption through a yarn about a thief, his assistant, a doctor, a security guard and a farmer. The highlights include good-natured characters, absurdist humour and evocative locations.

The Unknown Saint (2019).

A World Not Ours

A bunch of documentaries on Netflix explores the plight of children battered by civil strife and military conflict. These include Born in Syria and Born in Gaza. Mahdi Fleifel’s debut documentary A World Not Ours (2012) provides an insider and grown-up view of life in a refugee camp.

Fleifel visits the Palestinian refugee camp Ein el-Helweh in Lebanon, where his father was raised and his grandfather and relatives continue to live. Fleifel’s crotchety grandfather refuses to migrate to the United Arab Emirates or elsewhere – I am waiting to return to my home in Palestine, he says. The backdrop is the football World Cup, which unites as well as divides the camp.

Fleifel’s short film A Drowning Man (2017), about a Palestinian refugee in Athens, is also on Netflix.

A World Not Ours (2012).

Ghost Hunting

The experience of incarceration and custodial violence is all too familiar to politically-minded Palestinians. Raed Andoni’s documentary Ghost Hunting (2017) offers an often uncomfortable recreation of prison life.

Palestinians who have spent years behind bars recreate scenes of interrogation and various forms of torture. When the former prisoners take on the role of their overlords, the film gets even more interesting – and harrowing.

Ghost Hunting (2017).