Participating in the festival under the International Forum of New Cinema category, which showcases avant garde, experimental works, essays, long-term observations, political reportage and yet-to-be-discovered cinematic landscapes, the film stars Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi .
Set in Jeddah, the film traces a complicated relationship between a young couple trying to find a way to date in the conservative kingdom. Fageeh plays an amateur actor who falls for an Internet-famous adopted daughter of a wealthy Saudi couple. Attracted to one another, the young lovers must navigate the constraints of societal segregation to spend time together.
"I wanted to make a film about the disenfranchised youth, the millennials, who are more voiceless and have less political representation, less economic opportunities." Sabbagh told the Hollywood Reporter . "It’s also about censorship, the layers of censorship and authority."
Sabbagh pointed out that "it’s a love story against the odds."
However, as the filmmaker told Al Jazeera, the comedy is also a commentary on public space in the conservative kingdom.
"In the last 30 years, public space in Saudi Arabia is getting smaller, there is less room for liberals, for women, for minorities. They are less visible in the streets, so no one wants to watch a film in a public space," he said. "So I had to make a love story, and in the background there is the story of the city and of public space."
Although Saudi Arabia isn't known for filmmaking – there aren't any cinemas in the kingdom – a large group of young comedians, actors and filmmakers have drawn international acclaim for their YouTube shows. Other documentaries and films have also drawn regional and international praise.
The lead actor in Sabbagh's film, Fageeh, shot to Internet fame in 2013 with a humorous video mocking the kingdom's ban on women driving. The viral video titled "No Woman, No Drive" parodied Bob Marley's classic song "No Woman, No Cry."
Sabbagh hopes that more filmmakers will be inspired by his success. He told the Hollywood Reporter that he sees positive reforms and change happening within his home country at a rapid pace.
"There is this notion of change in Saudi now; we have a younger leadership, and it seems this change has been coming at faster pace than ever," he said. "We profit from this new political climate. The kids over there are doing a great job, and we’d like our film to be a symbol of change and growing opportunities for the youth."
Also at Berlinale, the Tunisian film "Inhebbek Hedi" opened the festival, competing alongside 18 other international films for the event's top prize, the Golden Bear. The last time an Arab film was in the running for the major prize was 1996, according to AFP .