Ultimately highlighting the futility of violence, Omar is a Palestinian pressured to collaborate with Israeli authorities – or face a long jail term.

Scaling the dividing wall that cuts through Jerusalem, Omar (Adam Bakri – Slam, Official Secrets) travels from his place of work to see his family and secretly court Nadia (Leem Lubany – Rock the Kasbah, Saint Judy), the sister of best friend Tarek (Eyad Hourani – The Idol, Vanguard). Arrested for participating in an attack that sees an Israeli soldier killed, Omar is given the choice: inform on Tarek or face a lengthy jail term. Released yet under suspicion as an informer, Omar sets out to prove otherwise, resulting in a twisting game of cat and mouse as the authorities under Agent Rami (Waleed Zuaiter – London Has Fallen, The Angel) close in on him.

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, The Mountain Between Us), Omar’s true motives and alliances remain hidden as he discovers his betrayal by Amjad (Samer Bisharat – TV’s Fauda, The Looming Tower), thus questioning his personal and political motivations. The result is a finely honed, personal dramatic thriller interwoven with a deeply felt love story.

Nominated for the 2014 best foreign language film Oscar.

Rating: 79% 

‘Where Is the Friend’s Home?’

With his trademark economy of form, Abbas Kiarostami’s (Taste of Cherry, Through the Olive Trees) gentle, nuanced realism produces a quietly immersive tale of a young boy’s journey to a neighbouring village in rural Iran.

When 8 year-old Ahmed (Babek Ahmed Poor – Through the Olive Trees) mistakenly takes his friend Mohammad’s notebook, he knows he must find a way to return it. Already in trouble at school, Mohammad (Ahmed Ahmed Poor – Through the Olive Trees) will be expelled. Ahmed slips away from his home with only the knowledge that his friend lives somewhere in Poshteh, the next village on the other side of the hill.

A simple premise that pays extraordinary dividends as, concientiously, Ahmed asks his way round Poshteh, determined to deliver the notebook. Exquisite and unobtrusive, poetic yet real, Where Is the Friend’s Home is unforgettable in it’s simplicity.

Rating: 87%

‘Fireworks Wednesday’

An early film from Iranian auteur Asghar Fahardi (A Separation, About Elly), Fireworks Wednesday is set on Chaharshanbeh Suri – the last Wednesday of the Persian year when tradition sees the country ablaze with fireworks and bonfires throughout the day.

On the first day of her new job as a cleaner, a bride-to-be Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti – Leila’s Brothers, About Elly) finds herself in the midst of a tense family drama as Mozhde and Morteza Samiei prepare for a vacation in Dubai. With Mozhde (Hediyeh Tehrani – Red, Orange Days) convinced husband Morteza (Hamid Farrokhnezhad – Major, Give Back) is having an affair with their neighbour, Rouhi must navigate her way through the intensity of emotions unfolding around her – and the chaos in the Samiei apartment itself.

It’s a gripping piece of storytelling as characters come and go adding to the narrative, leaving a wonderful Rouhi bemused and completely baffled.

Rating: 77%

‘A Time For Drunken Horses’

Extraordinary social neo-realism, Iranian style, A Time For Drunken Horses is stunningly beautiful in its bleakness as a family struggle to survive the harshness of life in a Kurdish smuggling village on the Iran/Iraq border.

Directed by Bahman Ghobadi (Turtles Can Fly, Half Moon) with a non-professional cast, winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2000, A Time For Drunken Horses sees 12-year-old Ayoub take on the mantle of head of the family with the loss of his father on a smuggling operation. With his severely disabled older brother Rojin requiring urgent surgery, Ayoub has no choice but to follow.

Interweaving scenes of village and home life, the narrative is harrowing and full of suspense as the smugglers avoid authorities and bandits in a landscape littered with landmines. Heartbreaking in its austere visceral reality, the loss of innocence and childhood is played out against a backdrop of strife and struggle.

Rating: 86%

‘Through the Olive Trees’

Mesmerising realism from Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry, Certified Copy), a film within a film explores the process of filmmaking with a non-professional cast in rural Iran.

With the film director (Mohamad Ali Keshavarz – The Rose, The Chess Game of the Wind) and his crew encouraging and supporting the young actors as best they can, the romantic love off-set by his young lead actor Farhad for his on-screen new wife Tahereh interferes with the shoot. The problem is Tahereh will not have a bar of him.

Gentle and warmhearted, Through the Olive Trees is a gloriously beautiful nuanced feature shot in a muted palatte whch adds to its understatement.

Rating: 80%

‘Ballad of a White Cow’

A slow, pensive tale as Mina (Maryam Moghadam – Leaf of Life, The Silence) discovers her husband, executed for murder a year earlier, was innocent.

As much a reflection on women’s position in contemporary Iran as a personal struggle for justice, Ballad of a White Cow is a quiet absorption of a narrative. Mina demands an official apology whilst struggling with raising a young daughter and the pressures placed upon her by family, neighbours and wider society.

It may not reach the heights of Asghar Fahardi’s stunning family dramas, but, co-directed by Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha (Risk of Acid Rain), Ballad of a White Cow is both compassionate and insightful as Mina looks to righting a wrong as Reza (Alireza Sani Far – Dressage, The Rain Falls Where It Will), claiming to be an acquaintance of her dead husband, seeks atonement.

Rating: 69%

‘The Day After I’m Gone’

A quiet, nuanced Israeli film, The Day After I Am Gone explores the breakdown of communication within families as a father and daughter come to terms with the recent death of their wife and mother.

In his feature film debut, writer/director Nimrod Eldar’s subtly told storytelling sees Yoram (Menashe Noy – Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalam, Kidon), senior vetenarian at Ramat Gan Safari, struggle with his 17 year-old daughter, Roni (Zohar Meidan in her film debut). An attempted suicide sees the two head to his wife’s family home in Ein Gedi overlooking the Dead Sea. A tension pervades the narrative as family opinions intrude on the father-daughter relationship. It’s life on the edge as Roni looks to escape from her trauma within the same oppressive environment from which Yoram himself escaped.

With the disintegrating landscape of the Dead Sea an integral part of the drama, The Day After I Am Gone is a delicate chamber piece of sincerity and honesty as the two attempt to come to understand each other.

Rating: 64%

‘Tel Aviv On Fire’

In spite of a potential political minefield, director Sameh Zoabi (Under the Same Sun) along with co-writer Dan Kleinman navigates a narrative between provocation and playfulness.

Something of a drifter, Salam Abbass (Kais Nashif – Paradise Now, Body of Lies) works as a general dogsbody on the popular 1967-set Palestinian soap opera Tel Aviv on Fire, produced in Ramallah by his uncle. Living in Jerusalem, he passes through the Israeli checkpoint each day. With the tacky espionage soap opera as popular with Israelis as Arabs, the checkpoint commanding officer Captain Assi Tzur (Yaniv Biton – TV’s Alumim, Shabas) looks to influence the plot – with Salam the willing pawn.

It’s a grower of a film with serious intent underlying the parody and lightheartedness that teeters on the edge of trivialising the politics of the region. But with its focus on the individuals involved, Tel Aviv on Fire is a genial, non-confrontational allegory.

Rating: 64%

‘The Wind Will Carry Us’

Visually stunning, The Wind Will Carry Us is a quiet, understated experience of the everyday as city engineer Behzad (Behzad Doroni – Invasion, A Few Days Later) and his two colleagues travel to a rural Kurdish village, commissioned to keep vigil for a dying woman.

Little happens as director Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry, Certified Copy) immerses the viewer in Behzad’s experience (his colleagues are only heard, never seen). Forced to slow to the rhythm of the village and the surrounding landscape, his view on the world slowly changes.

Introspective yet visually expansive and with it’s largely non-professional cast, The Wind Will Carry Us is dignified, firmly grounded and deeply evocative.

Rating: 78%

‘Kosher Beach’

The separated religious beach in Tel Aviv just metres from the busy Hilton gay beach provides ultraorthodox women (on certain days) a sanctuary, a place of rest and escape. Rigid traditions of daily life and the constant presence of people at their home in the orthodox Bnei Brak is made that more bearable by a weekly trip to the beach and the sea. But, fearful of immorality, these trips are threatened by the rabbis: the women will not accept such rulings.

The women featured are remarkably candid – Dina in her unhappy marriage struggling for her three daughters’ want to live in a less repressive environment; the older Tzipora and Rebbetzin passing (at times very funny) commentary on other women on the beach; the (unexpected male) lifeguards and their support for the women; Dina’s daughters and their faith. Interspersed with humour and honesty, Karin Kainer’s film is gentle, non-judgemental and eminently watchable.

Rating: 60%