Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1392, (3 - 9 May 2018)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1392, (3 - 9 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Labour gained

Two Cairo Cinema Days films highlighted the conditions of labour past and present, writes Soha Hesham

#A Feeling Greater than Love # Northern Wind
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A recurrent theme in recent films is that of white- as much as blue-collar workers being made redundant, bringing the ugly face of globalisation into view. Two debuts on the Cairo Cinema Days programme, Mary Jirmanus Saba’s A Feeling Greater than Love and Walid Mattar’s Northern Wind — otherwise very different – overlap in their concern with the workers of the world as such. 

The first is a documentary on two workers’ strikes of the early 1970s at the tobacco company and the Ghandour Factory. Using titles on a black background, Saba adds her own, often sarcastic input to the picture, but the problem remains: there is no footage of the strikes she’s documenting, and to make up for this lack she resorts to scenes from contemporaneous Lebanese films together with actual participants remembering the strikes (which are now largely forgotten, overshadowed by the war). The difficult sectarian politics of Lebanon – always confusing to the non-Lebanese – form the backdrop to the story of a bourgeois lady, Nadine, who marries a Ghandour Factory worker and – persuaded to do so by him – takes the first name of a female coworker of his who was “martyred” in one of the protests, Warda Boutros, as her own second name. 

Emphasising the Ghandour Factory at the expense of the tobacco strikes, the film nonetheless conveys a strong sense of the camaraderie and insurgent impulses of the time. Past and present come together as former comrades including Nadine and her peers meet to discuss their political activities, expressing their hopes and dreams, and end up having the exact same arguments. Saba’s first film, A Feeling Greater than Love won the FIPRESCI International Critics Award at the Berlinale Forum in 2017. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1983, Saba was educated at Harvard College and California University, and her interests lie with working women’s movements in the Middle Easy and Latin America.

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In Northern Wind Walid Mattar takes aim at globalisation through a double story unfolding in France and Tunisia along parallel lines. Hervé (Philippe Rebbot) is a worker at a shoe factory who finds out that the factory is relocating and leaving him and his coworkers jobless with only minimal compensation after 32 years. Hervé accepts the severance offer of Euro 30 thousand instead of going on the rocky road of social struggles and strikes along with his colleagues who therefore see him as a traitor. 

The brilliant script by Leyla Bouzid, Clause Le Pape and Mattar provides a complete and totally convincing picture of Hervé’s life: his demanding wife Véronique (Corinne Masiero), who regales him with questions at this hard and humiliating time; his dysfunctional son Vincent (Kacey Mottet Klein), who spends most of his time playing video games and feeling angry with his parents; and his passion for fishing, which he does every day. Hervé invests his money in a small fishing boat and starts a small fish business with the help of his son, who is about to join the army.

Thanks to Martin Rit’s beautiful cinematography, we see the cargo being shipped from where Hervé works to Tunisia, travelling across the open sea. On the opposite coast there lives Foued (Mohamed Amine Hamzaoui), a young Tunisian worker who is starting his career on the same machine which Hervé operated, with a tiny little salary and no medical insurance, which is significant since his mother is ill, but he hopes for a promotion and falls in love with his coworker Karima (Abir Bennai), who eventually leaves him for another man. At the same time Hervé’s business, which has benefited from Véronique’s small network of friends and Vincent’s delivery skills, is disbanded by the police who insist it is illegal... 

When Véronique organises a trip to Tunisia as a birthday present for Hervé, the two characters end up crossing paths. While Foued is on the Metro and Hervé is on the bus to the airport, they make eye contact for a moment, not knowing anything of each other. Mattar doesn’t fall into the trap of forcing them to meet. Screened in the official competition of the Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival in 2017, Northern Wind is Mattar’s debut feature. It begins and ends with  fireworks celebrating 14 July, French National Day, but the second time Foued is there, watching, hoping for a better future here in France. The film is beautifully balanced, with as much comedy as tragedy and the message that workers are in the same shoes on both sides of the Mediterranean effectively communicated. The acting was excellent throughout, with Rebbot especially making a powerful impression.

The Cairo Cinema Days apologised for cancelling the screening of Happily Ever After, directed by Ayman El Amir and Nada Riyadh without explaining the decision further. The film contains some details about 25 January Revolution, however, so the reason is likely to be censorship. 

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