Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Cairo and the flash

Hani Mustafa ushers in the 37th Cairo International Film Festival

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Each year the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF, 11-20 November) attempts to offer film lovers in Egypt some of the most interesting and important world fare. Last year’s round was a significant trigger-off point for the future of the CIFF, bringing back to the oldest film event in the Arab world its former glory and demonstrating how the success of any festival depends on the size of its audience. With the 37th round under a new Festival President, Magda Wassif and Director, Youssef Cherif Rizkalla following critic Samir Farid resignation at the end of last year’s round, efforts are nonetheless underway to carry on what Farid started.

Honoured are the Italian film star Claudia Cardinale and Egyptian actor Hussein Fahim, who will both receive the Faten Hamama Merit Award for their lifetime achievement, as well as Nelly Karim who will receive the Excellence Award.

Headed by the Canadian filmmaker Bille August, a two-time Palm d’Or recipient (for Pelle the Conqueror, also the winner of Best Foreign Film Academy Award, in 1988; and The Best Intentions in 1992), the jury includes the British producer Paul Webster, the French producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint, the Georgian director George Ovashvili, the Indian filmmaker and show designer Farah Khan, the Moroccan filmmaker Laila Marrakchi, the Egyptian actress Dalia Al-Beheiri and the Egyptian filmmaker Marwan Hamed.

The festival opens with American filmmaker Jonathan Demme’s Ricki and the Flash, starring Meryl Streep (who won the Oscar three times in 1980, 1983 and 2012) and Kevin Kline. A social drama with musical overtones, it tells the story of Ricki (Streep), a rock musician now aged 60. In the opening scenes, Ricki’s work as a rock guitarist in a modest band that performs at a Los Angeles bar quickly leads into the story. The psychological dimensions of the character come through when her fellow rocker Greg (Rick Springfield) introduces her and tells the audience they are together, but Ricki – ever scared of commitment – says they are only having a good time.

At the end of the show Streep manages  to convey a sense of the weight of the past encroaching on the present by looking at her mobile phone when she receives a call she does not pick up. This is later consolidated as the film builds a picture of a woman who abandoned her home and children to be become a rocker.

In the morning Ricki picks up after some hesitation, and she finds out from her ex-husband Pete (Kline) that their daughter Julie (played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) has been divorced after her husband left her for another woman within two years of their marriage. She is having a nervous breakdown. Pete asks Ricki to come and help now that his present wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) is away taking care of her own sick father.

In the few days she spends with her estranged daughter at Pete’s luxurious villa – Julie receives her coldly – Ricki discovers the motherhood she willingly gave up when she left, with the Julie’s breakdown being the main element in the dramatic structure. Many comic details result from Ricki’s attempts to cheer Julie up and drag her out of her depression. She is particularly moved when she finds out Julie tried to take her own life. The script traces the development of the relationship between mother and daughter as they go for coffee and doughnuts and to the hairdresser’s together – until Maureen returns to destroy the newly forged bond as Julie’s actual mother. This is not conveyed melodramatically, and it does not break the light-hearted tone of the film, but it nonetheless shows the shift that takes place in Ricki.

On her return Ricki goes through a period of distress following the disruption to her life, she is disturbed and ill at ease, which breaks open her relationship with Greg and allows her eventually to respond to his gushing feelings for her. She also accepts Maureen’s apology and her invitation to come back for the wedding of her son Josh (Sebastian Stan).

The film is an effective entertainment but at the artistic level offers little that is new. Though smooth and relatable, the story seems somewhat superficial, with predictable dramatic developments: Ricki’s visit helps Julie, Pete feels for her again (however slightly) and when Ricki meets Josh and his fiancee together with his brother Adam, the viewer can tell Adam will turn out to be gay. It all feels somewhat prepackaged, something that is confirmed when Ricki is heard criticising the rise of Obama to power in 2008 and Adam admonishes her as someone who voted for Bush... It is a good film, all things considered, but perhaps not a festival film after all.

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