Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Cry my beloved continent

Discussing some of the winners of this year’s Luxor African Film Festival competitions

#Hedi # Head Bang Lullaby # Kalushi # Mali Blues
# # # #

The general assumption is that filmmaking in Africa is economically and otherwise constrained. But the truth is that, taken together, African filmmakers have a lot to offer, something the Luxor African Film Festival yearly demonstrates.

One example is the South African filmmaker Mandla Dube’s biopic Kalushi, which won the Best Film Nile Award. Based on real historical events of the 1970s, the classically structured film is the story of ANC freedom fighter Solomon Mahlangu Kalushi – the protagonist and narrator who, at the age of 19, explains how his family were farmers before the Apartheid government policies forced them out of their land and into the town of Mamelodi outside Pretoria. The opening scenes show the character’s relationship with his girlfriend, his love of jazz and dedication to boxing — an ordinary citizen — preparing the viewer for the transformation that overtakes him after he is humiliated by the police and joins a refugee camp in Mozambique. After six months Kalushi moves onto Angola to train as an ANC fighter. In 1977 he is arrested while undertaking subversive activities back in South Africa; he is tried and hanged in 1979. The film is remarkable for its direction and photography, which employs action film techniques to depict political violence. Asked about his choice of the armed resistance as the topic of his debut in the discussion that followed the screening, Dube said that modern history — especially South Africa’s colonial history — was never free of violence on the part of the white government. When the African people took up arms it was as it were in self-defence. Dube also mentioned that the film, which took nine years to make, is the first in a trilogy on the topic; it cost over $ 3.5 million.

The long documentary Mali Blues by the German director Lutz Gergor, which won the Best Film Award in the Human Rights Competition (also known as the Al-Husseini Abu Daif Competition, after the young journalist who was killed while demonstrating against the Muslim Brotherhood on 5 December 2012) features interviews with Malian musicians. Among these is Fatoumata Diawara, who is quite famous in Europe and who took part in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu, which participated in the 2014 Cannes official competition, was nominated for an Oscar and won seven César prizes. In Mali Blues Fatoumata is returning to Mali for the first time in many years, having settled in France; she can be seen visiting a village and interacting with its poor inhabitants. She also speaks of her childhood and youth, her views on the importance of music and the fact that the fundamentalist Islamists controlling the north prohibit it. There also interviews with Bassekou Kouyaté, Master Soumy and Ahmed Ag Kaedi, as well as much powerful music including a major concert with which the film begins and ends, demonstrating the Malian musicians’ brilliance at combining their heritage with contemporary fusions. Artistically speaking, however, the film offers little in the way of cinematic brilliance or vision.

One beautifully humane and remarkable film was the Tunisian filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia’s Inhebbek Hedi, whose lead the Tunisian star Majd Mastoura shared the Best Artistic Contribution Award for Acting with the Egyptian Amr Saad for his role in Magdi Ahmad Ali’s Mawlana. For his role Mastoura also won a Silver Bear as Best Actor at the Berlinale and the Best Actor Award at the Carthage Film Festival. Ben Attia trails the young man named Hedi, who works as a Peugeot salesman, is staying at a hotel in the coastal city of Mahdia, where he meets and falls in love with a member of the animation team. Hedi can be seen changing into leather shoes in the car before meeting clients, a detail that seems to reflect a constant conflict and leads into the central issue: that Hedi’s mother (Sabah Bouzouita, who was present at the screening), having been deprived of her elder son, who lives in France, organises and controls every aspect of Hedi’s life from the family house in Kairouan. She has even arranged a marriage for him. But the pressure she has placed on Hedi eventually backfires. He stops responding to his boss’s calls and starts living with the girl he loves — with whom he plans on travelling to Montpelier although his courage fails him at the last minute and he leaves her at the airport. Mastoura’s brilliance resides in his ability to communicate his emotions subtly through a single unchanged expression which only shifts during the confrontation when his mother and elder brother track him down at the hotel...

Moroccan cinema was the guest of honour at the Luxor Festival this year and the veteran actor Mohamed Miftah, who made a contribution to Egyptian as well, was honoured on the occasion. But it is the choice of Hisham Lasri’s Head Bang Lullaby — which was screened in the Berlinale Panorama — as the opening film that is more significant.

Larsi has a distinctive style which relies on non-chronological narrative and, in this film, recalls the theatre of the absurd: Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Ionesco’s The Chairs. The film starts with a still of a man playing tennis with cactus in the background — a powerful, nightmarish image that introduces the story. The man, Daoud, is a policeman who while disbanding the bread riots in 1984 is ludicrously hit by a bottle to the head. In 1986 he is watching the Moroccan participation in the World Cup when he is ordered to secure a bridge in a remote area under which the King may or may not pass; he must spend the whole day there. Daoud discovers that the bridge connects two warring villages — according to the head of one of them, one is Coca Cola and the other is Pepsi. Daoud’s assistant is injured in the leg, and so the villagers attempt to help him by boxing his head and offering him hashish and alcohol, singing him lullabies so that he will sleep. Daoud faces a woman whose husband is detained by the state and another whose son was killed in the bread riots... The film ends with the death of the elderly Sufi who crosses the bridge with his donkey and is being buried by the villagers when the King’s car flits by as expected, unaware of all that is going on. Larsi beautifully dramatises the absurdity and strangeness, presenting a nightmarish vision of Moroccan society with a panorama of the marginalised and impoverished including the horse, which symbolises Arab freedom.

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