|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
7 - 13 March 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Cute is as cute doesSandra Nashat's Haramiya fi KG2 is a glossy production. But, wonders Nur Elmessiri, is polish enough
Hassan (Karim Abdel-Aziz) finds himself in the awkward situation of having to look after his partner-in- robbery's six-year-old daughter Nisma (Maha) while his friend does time in jail. And so Sandra Nashat's human-interest-comedy Haramiya fi KG2 (Thieves in Kindergarten) gets going, taking the viewer from Alexandria to Cairo where Hassan lives and where he proceeds, following instructions, to enroll the child in second year kindergarten (KG2) at an expensive school -- and, in the last third of the film, on a Nile cruise (Luxor, Aswan, Kom Ombo) in pursuit of Miss Reem (Hanan Turk), Nesma's delectably pretty, stylish, classy KG2 teacher.
The tour of Egypt (by train, automobile, boat and motorcycle, through desert, countryside and River Nile) offered by this film, with swish camerawork and Dolby soundtrack, also includes scenic Port Said where Hassan lends his sidekick -- kind, comic, overweight neighbour Sayed (Maged El-Kedawani) -- a helping hand in a family affair. This Port Said digression has less to do with anything as old-fashioned as plot or character development than with the opportunity it offers the camera to cinematically roll and the director to display the state-of-the-art level of professionalism that is her film's most noteworthy characteristic.
Till recently, the basic choice in Egypt for mindless cinematic fare consisted of two options: on the one hand, the film agnabi hayif (the light-weight foreign -- usually American -- film); on the other, the film arabi habit (the crass, locally-produced Arabic film). These, to be distinguished from serious cinema (whether Egyptian or foreign), were as clearly distinct from each other as, say, the idiom of the Egyptian baladi lower-middle class and that of the semi-westernised Egyptian upper-middle, as worlds apart visually speaking as, say, the districts of Dar Al-Salam and Maadi. The arabi habit tended to be poorly produced, relied on melodramatic emotions or vulgar humour, was peopled by stock Egyptian characters, both rural and urban, whose class affiliations were unambiguous, and who were unconvincingly played by over made- up, over-dressed, over-weight, over-aged (for their parts) voluptuous/shrewish women and macho men. The seamlessly produced agnabi hayif, on the other hand, was about cute young people falling in love or dashing detectives doing their dashing detective thing in some shiny, clean bilad barra (abroad) setting. While for the cultural snob on a cultural junk food binge the arabi habit derived its entertainment value from how bad it was, so bad as to almost border on camp, the agnabi hayif offered the kind of escapism that residents of such socially and historically complex third world cities as Cairo sometimes feel they need.
Haramiya fi KG2 is -- in terms of the grotesquely exaggerated typology offered here -- certainly not arabi habit. Made in early 21st century Egypt, where hitherto unprecedented levels of professionalism in packaging and advertising are being attained, where young executives and marketing personnel are increasingly driven by international standards of what they call "quality," Sandra Nashat's meticulously executed film is testimony to the fact that Egypt is now capable of producing what it used to import. Haramiya fi KG2 belongs to that new class of Egyptian film: the arabi hayif made in agnabi mode. It's a small, global village world after all.
The title of the film is indicative. There is no such creature as "KG2" in the Arabic language. A not-so-insubstantial bulk of Egypt's literate population, whether rural or urban -- those who do not "have languages," those who are not troubled by new- international-bourgeois aspirations -- are not likely to have heard of KG2, let alone to have enrolled their school-going children there.
But cinema is for cinema-goers, just as consumerism is for consumers. And the twain do, in Cairo in this day and age, meet like they never have before.
From yuppyish bachelor flat (-ish, because, after all, Hassan is a crook who has not had a sophisticated education), to five-star restroom in five-star nightclub, to upper-middle language school, to gambling casino, toy store, supermarket, to Downtown's pedestrianised area, through the new, shiny Al-Azhar tunnel, Cairo comes across as photogenically, cinematically on a par with the New York and LA of Hollywood. Spurning the low-budget film arabi habit's timid tendency to minimise attention to setting, this film's Cairo is a Hollywood Cairo, professionally shot on location and, so, "realistic" -- and yet possessed of all the smoothness and glibness that is required of a city if it is to be a backdrop for the kind of protagonist a film like Sandra Nashat's offers: a cute (non-sleazy, attentive to personal hygiene) crook, whizzing around on motorcycle, as he tends to his cute Orphan Annie charge, having been transformed into a caring person by one helluva cute schoolteacher.
Cute was not the forte of the film arabi habit -- and certainly never where the male hero or anti-hero was concerned. Only the agnabi -- starring Richard Gere, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise -- could deliver cuteness to Egyptian cinemas. With the likes of this film's Hassan, Miss Reem and Nisma (all competently and professionally performed), Egypt has proven that it is capable of producing the cool-cute male, the attractive-cute female and the sassy/bratty-but-cute child, all recognisable members of global pop culture.
And how do these charming creatures spend their time in Cairo? When they are not drinking fizzy pop on their rooftop terraces, or breaking into safes (professionally please, as professional as the camera work that will bring such sound-tracked burglary to the screen), they hang out in coffee shops (a species of leisure space --to be distinguished from the traditional qahwa baladi -- that, like the mall, has multiplied at a phenomenal rate) and get to meet, over their LE10 minimum charge beverage, peer group members of the opposite sex. They shop a lot: for toys, junk food, stationary and spurious stationary-shop affiliates. Caring and sensitive, they run in fund-raising marathons (for children who have cancer) in impressively international stadiums. Adventurous and free-spirited, they go on unplanned, spur of the moment Nile cruises. Romantic, they send sweet-nothing love messages on their mobiles. And the light is always flattering; the streets, clean; and how much things like bubble bath cost is the last thing on a person's mind.
Fun? The mostly young audience had it. And some laughter. But why, at least one member of the audience wondered, was there no Valentine's Day in the movie? We do celebrate it now in Egypt, you know. Some of us can even afford it.
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