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Showing love and desire in Arab films

Outdoor movie theaters are part of Spain's summer landscape — this year, with a risque twist.

Madrid's Casa Arabe featured "Labyrinth of Passions: Love and Desire in Arab Films", an Arab movie series about love and sex, in its outdoor summer theater. The initiative inspired so much interest it was difficult to get a chair. (Michael Moffett/GlobalPost)

MADRID — When the sun goes down and the heat lets up, Spaniards like to enjoy a film under the summer stars. This year, passions were burning high at one outdoor theater showing a series of films about love and sex.

Such a topic is not too surprising in progressive Spain, except that the venue was none other than Madrid's Casa Arabe, or Arab House. The summer theater installed on its patio showed a five-movie series during July called “Labyrinth of Passions: Love and Desire in Arab Films.”

Organizers say they are trying to challenge cliches about Arab and Islamic societies and that they believe Spain is uniquely positioned to promote relations with the Arab and Islamic world.

The Moors’ almost 800-year presence in these lands, a time of alternating peace and war, left a rich legacy in Spanish language and architecture. Many Spaniards have last names of Arabic origin and Morocco is only nine miles from the Spanish coast.

“In Arab and Islamic imagery, Spain is the most credible and friendly country in all of Europe," Casa Arabe's website states. "Spain refrained from participating in the colonial adventure of the great empires."

Casa Arabe's director, Gema Martin Munoz, said they wanted to show how Arab societies treat love and desire. "It may surprise some because the stereotype that the Arab world is monolithically puritanical and ultraconservative is widespread, but that’s only one aspect, though the most publicized in our societies,” she wrote in an email. “Often the tendency is to think that what is not known does not exist.”

The showings are free of charge and were standing room only. The movies — "A Cup and a Cigarette" ("Sigara wa kaz"), "Insomnia" ("La anam"), "Dunia," "Marock" and "Satin Rouge" come from Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and France. They explore love, desire, jealousy and complex relations.

“Satin Rouge” played to an audience that waited up to an hour in line for a seat. Once the movie started at 10 p.m., some unlucky souls stayed on to watch through the wrought-iron fence surrounding the complex.

“Satin Rouge” is a 2002 Tunisian film directed by Raja Amari which tells the story of a widow and strict mother, Lilia (Hiam Abbas), who rediscovers her sensuality while belly dancing in a cabaret. She leaves her house silently at night to conceal her dancing from family and neighbors living in a conservative society.

In an early dressing room scene, a cabaret friend recalls how her custom-made bra burst in the middle of her dance. “It must have been horrible,” Lilia says. “No way, men loved it. A piece of tit, 147 dinars,” quips her friend, laughing.