Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
28 Dec. 2000 - 3 Jan. 2001
Issue No.514
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

A motley crew

By Tarek Atia

Even with six films being released at once, it would still be premature to say that the Egyptian film industry is back on track. What might be said, however, is that someone is certainly trying to recreate the active, pleasantly crowded, pluralistic market of yore.

For starters, none of the films being released for the traditional blockbuster Eid weekend feature any of the mega-stars who have monopolised the feast's screen for years. That means no Adel Imam, no Nadia El-Guindi this time around. In fact, most of this year's films feature newcomers; bright young stars and even nobodies. Is that a good thing? The box office will certainly let us know.

The film that has generated the most buzz so far is Leih Khalitni Ahibak (Why'd You Make Me Love You?), director Sandra Nashaat's second effort after the sleeper hit Mabrouk wa Bulbul. Sandra's latest effort is about two girls -- one rich, one middle-class -- vying for the same middle-class guy. Basically, this is a comedy aimed at teenagers and stars some favourite young faces: Karim Abdel-Aziz, Mona Zaki, Hala Shiha, and Ahmed Helmi. The producers are clearly going for the friendly, playful approach with billboards featuring a big red heart with the film's title in funky lettering, and only the participants' first names. The LE1 million production, which is being screened in an impressive 28 cinemas, also features the late Mustafa Metwalli in his last cinematic appearance.

On the other end of the spectrum is the humdrum-sounding Al-Cash Mashi (Cash Works). Filmed a full seven years ago, this musical comedy was originally called Al-Mudifat Al-Thalatha (The Three Air Hostesses) until the song "Al-Cashi Mashi" was recently added. The film was actually released in cinemas without director Tareq El-Nahri even being informed. Starring Nermine El-Fiqi, Rania Youssef and Wahid Seif, this potential turkey is only showing on eight screens.

In between these two extremes are four other films that span the spectrum, presenting a healthy mix of new blood and old standards. Firqat Banat Wa Bass (Just an All-Girls Band) is yet another remake of the Marilyn Monroe classic Some Like It Hot, this time starring young guns Hani Ramzi and Maged El-Masri in the cross-dressing roles made famous by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Newcomer Amira Fathi (the veiled neighbourly love interest in Saidi fil Gamaa Al-Amrikiya) here plays Monroe's character. Director Sherif Shaaban has made a career out of this sort of Egyptianisation of Western films, one of his previous efforts being the highly popular Tata wa Rika wa Kazem Bey, which was lifted straight from the Hollywood film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Clockwise from top left: Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, Ilham Shahine, Tareq Alllam, Nermine El-Fiqi, Karim Abdel-Aziz, Maged El-Masri, Wahid Seif, Ahmed Ramzi, Youssra

Next on the list is Al-Agenda Al-Hamra (The Red Notebook), starring TV presenter Tareq Allam of Kalam min Dahab (Words of Gold) fame. Allam has decided to give cinema another try after the critical failure and modest box office success of his first foray onto the big screen in the spy thriller Al-Kafeer. This time, he plays a doctor who discovers that one of his relatives (Ezzat Abu Ouf) has AIDS. The bad news inspires him to search for the woman who gave Ouf the disease, a quest that leads him into an underworld of urfi (unregistered) marriage and prostitution. He uncovers a ring of Israeli women posing as tourists, but actually attempting to infect as many Egyptian men as possible with AIDS. Unless Allam and his co-stars can pull off really strong performances, this LE1.5 million production sounds like a waste of time.

Souq Al-Mut'a (Pleasure Market), starring screen stalwart Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, may fare a bit better, considering the fact that scriptwriter Wahid Hamid and director Samir Seif were the team that brought us Ramadan's controversial smash hit Awan Al-Ward (Flowers Bloom). Here, Hamid and Seif tell the story of a man (Abdel-Aziz) who has been wrongly incarcerated. When he's released 15 years later, those behind the set-up decide to make it up to him by plying him with money, girls and a lucrative business venture -- all of which Abdel-Aziz discovers he could just as easily do without. The film was first shown at the Cairo International Film Festival two years ago. At the time, it was said to contain some highly risqué scenes featuring co-star Ilham Shahine. Apparently, those scenes have been left in their entirety for this general release.

The only other film veterans on the Eid big screen this year are Youssra and Ahmed Ramzi, who star in Inas El-Degheidi's Al-Warda Al-Hamra (The Red Rose). Both Ramzi and Youssra are pulling double whammies on us, so soon after their attention-grabbing performances on television serials this Ramadan. Here they play the young starlet and her rich, old geezer husband. Predictably enough, the starlet gets sick of the old geezer and goes back to her (young) first flame (Mustafa Fahmi). The old geezer (an arms dealer) then plots his revenge. Those who couldn't get enough of Youssra in a bathing suit frolicking on the beach in Hurghada will get plenty more of the same here.

More than 12 films were vying for release this Eid, with producers scrambling to put the final touches on their blockbuster-hopefuls in order to catch the big weekend, a situation highly reminiscent of the pre-Ramadan television soap opera rush. So how were these six selected from amongst the dozen or more contenders? Supposedly on the basis of their plots being more appropriate to the "fun" spirit of the Eid. Those that didn't make the cut include the more serious Al-'Asifa (Desert Storm), a political look into the Gulf War, and Naglaa Fathi's return to the big screen in Batal Min Al-Ganoub (Hero from the South), about the Lebanese civil war. Director Raafat El-Mihi's Alashan Rabina Yihibak (So God Will Like You) was pulled out of the race at the last minute by Mihi himself when he found out he wouldn't get many screens.

Although these factors might make it seem like some smart marketing decisions are finally being made by the movie industry, there is still a fatal flaw in the plan. This year's Eid films are mainly of the "take-away" variety -- distributors and producers are hoping to appeal to younger audiences. But much of this target market will be extremely busy studying for their mid-year exams, which begin right after the Eid.

In any case, the manoeuvering shows that there's a great deal of energy and productivity out there hoping to get noticed. A lot of films are being made in a valiant attempt to break both Hollywood's stranglehold of the country's multiplexes and the old guard's hegemony over choice seasons like the Eid.

Let's hope it bears fruit.

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