Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Of women and soldiers

Soha Hesham attends D-CAF’s film screenings

Party Girl
Party Girl
Al-Ahram Weekly

For the second week now at the Zawya Art House – in part of a programme that also includes music, theatre and visual art – the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF, 31 March-22 April) has screened a fascinating array of European cinema.

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Philippe Faucon’s Fatima (2015) opens with a woman in hijab (the non-professional actress Soria Zeroual) together with two teenage girls – Nesrine, 18 (Zita Hanrot) and Souad, 15 (Kenza Noah Aiche) – waiting to see an apartment for rent. Once the landlady meets them however she claims the keys are no longer available. This is the Algerian immigrant divorcee Fatima and her two daughters in Faucon’s adaptation of Fatima Elayoubi’s collection of stories, poems and other writings Priere a la lune (Prayer to the Moon). Fatima’s ex-husband seldom appears and he remains nameless, leaving the film to focus on the three women.

Fatima is a cleaning woman with no social life who can barely speak French, responding to her rebellious younger daughter Souad’s fluent French in Arabic. Not so well-adjusted is Nesrine, who is a medical student constantly studying and under stress for lack of finances and difficult household conditions. While Souad, resenting her mother’s job and failure to integrate, is constantly fighting with Fatima, Nesrine is the warmer, kinder presence in the middle-aged woman’s wife. The film arguably focuses on mainstream society’s aggression against Muslims, with Fatima failing to start a casual conversation with a woman at the supermarket and being suspected of stealing and the girls suffering from identity issues.

Nesrine is under the pressure of preparing for her exams, refusing to go out with her housemate so she can stay home and study. The father’s appearances are few and far-between, and seem to punctuate the three women’s distinctly different lives. When he tries to exercise authority over Nesrine, she lectures him on patriarchy. In this as in other aspects of the film the script is perfectly intertwined with the characters. Fatima has always written to vent her suffering in Arabic. When she falls and breaks her arm she ends up reading her writings to the woman doctor who attends to her in hospital, an Arabic speaker.

The film’s various elements complement each other to deliver a strong and moving message: Laurent Fenart’s cinematography, Sophie Mandonnet’s editing and brilliant performances by the three actresses. At the  César Awards, Zita Hanrot received the most promising actress prize and Soria Zeroual was nominated for the best actress prize. The film received the best film and best adapted screenplay prizes.

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Party Girl (2014), directed by Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis, centres on an ageing woman, Angelique (Angelique Litzenburger) who works as a bar hostess in eastern France, near the German border. One night Angelique finds herself alone in the bar, without customers, and she decides to visit one of her former customers, Michel (Joseph Bour), a retired coal miner, who apparently gave her his home address in the past. An astonished Michel welcomes Angelique and making coffee while and she asks why he has stopped coming to the bar. They spend the day together, eating, walking and – as if to prove Angelique’s abiding power to attract customers – ending up back at the bar again.

Michel is so overwhelmed that he asks Angelique to marry him and, despite her initial doubts, she soon moves from her small room above the bar into his house, which has a garden. Angelique begins to reestablish contact with her four children – Mario, Severine, Cynthia and Sam – to inform them of her impending marriage. Caught up in the resulting arrangements, Angelique is forced to rediscover herself as a grandmother and a partner, and struggles with being a wife. One night she refuses to go home with Michel and ends up at one of the cabarets she used to frequent where a young man refuses to buy her expensive drink and treats her like a prostitute and she is eventually kicked out. She returns to Michel.

Sam is the son closest to Angelique’s heart. The night before the wedding Angelique confesses to him that she doesn’t love Michel. But it is Michel’s proposal that has reunited the family for the first time, with even Cynthia (who was raised by another family) joining her mother and siblings and giving a moving speech. What Michel doesn’t seem to understand is that the life of the bars is the only life Angelique knows. After the wedding, when Michel finally approaches her expecting intimacy, a confrontation occurs: she tells him she doesn’t love him and leaves, going back to her previous life.

Despite the character-focused script and the lack of visual opportunities, the cinematography and costume design manage to be almost as excellent as Angelique Litzenburger and Cynthia Litzernburger’s performances. The film won a Golden Camera Award and Un Certain Regards-Ensemble Prize at Cannes Festival, where Litzenburger received the Best Actress Award (Angelique). It also won the Grand Prix and Student Jury Award at Bratislava International Film Festival and a FIPRESCI Prize at the Gijón International Film Festival.

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Written and directed by Alice Winocour, who participated in the script of the Turkish film Mustang, Disorder (original title: Maryland) is the story of Vincent, a French special forces soldier whose latest medical tests suggest that he should leave the military – against his will. Played by Mattias Schoenaerts, known for his role in Jacques Audiard’s 2012 De rouille et d’os (Rust and Bone), Vincent is securing a high-profile party at the property of the Lebanese tycoon Whalid (Percy Kemp) when he spots Whalid’s stunning German wife Jessie (Diane Kruger) and eavesdrops on a tense discussion of some illegal arms deal.

Soon after Vincent is recruited to protect Jessie and the Whalids’ son Ali (Zaid Errougui-Demonsant) while Whalid himself is away on business. Though Vincent’s paranoia is inexplicable – a weak point of the script – his apparent delusions turn out to be real when on a visit to the beach he manages to protect Jessie and Ali from an attempt on their lives. Mother and son return with their bodyguard to find the house broken into, but following a call from Whalid’s lawyer (who tells her Whalid has been arrested), Jessie refuses to follow Vincent’s advice to leave the house. Once again as the film turns into a home attack thriller the weakness of the script is evident. While Vincent calls one of his old friends from the military to back him up, later that night the lights go out and the alarm starts as more attackers break into the house...

George Lechaptois’s cinematography somewhat makes up for the script, and together with the casting and the acting performances it resulted in the film’s nomination for an Un Certain Regard award at the 2015 Cannes Festival.

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The Bulgarian film Eastern Plays (2009), directed by Kamen Kalev, is the story of the young drug addict artist Itso (Christo Christov) and his younger brother Georgi (Ovanes Torosian). In Sofia, the quiet city, Georgi lives with his father and stepmother, whom he doesn’t like, while Itso – a former art student – works as  a carpenter, drinks during the day and has a girlfriend, Niki (Nikolina Yancheva), whom he mistreats, introducing her to a friend as “Sex”.

One evening a Turkish family is  attacked on its way out of a restaurant, with the man brutally beaten in front of his wife and daughter for being Turkish (so the right-wing gang says). Itso, who happens to be at the same restaurant, is trying to rescue the man when he spots Georgi among the gang members. For a moment they look at each other, then Georgi flees. The implication is that right-wing politicians fund such activities...

This leads to Itso visiting his father, who unaware of Georgi’s activities receives him coldly and tells him he is a bad role model for his younger brother. It also leads to Itso visiting the Turkish man at hospital, having phoned the ambulance and found out where he was. There, despite the man’s objections to their going out, Itso develops a strong relationship with the man’s daughter Isil (Saadet Isil Aksoy). By then Itso’s cruelty to his Niki has driven her away – she does try to come back, but Itso heartlessly shuts the door in her face – but it is an entirely different kind of bond that he begins to form with Isil despite his addiction and psychological troubles.

Christov’s performance is deep and powerful, as in the scene when he tells his psychiatrist about his empty life and his inability to love people and feel for them – a sincere revelation of the human spirit and how it can be undone, beautifully complemented by Julian Atanassov’s cinematography and Jean-Paul Wall’s music.

The film won the Best Actor and Best Director awards at the Bratislava International Film Festival, was nominated for a Golden Camera Award at Cannes Film Festival in 2009, and received three awards – Best Actor, Best Director and Grand Prix – at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

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