After a 32 hour trip including four airplanes, three layovers, and a bus ride from Alexandria to Cairo during which I watched El-Limby Part Two. Many of you may not know of El-Limby. And you should. He is played by comedic genius Mohammad Sa’d, whose most recent movie is 3okal. I saw 3okal with my cousins in a theater in Alexandria the day it came out. It tells the story of a man named 3okal who gets fucked over by his fiancee and her brother, is bitched out by his great-grandma (whom he plays), fails to perform well as an extra in a period film, and gets fired. These events prompt him to drink huge amounts of liquor and roam the streets of cairo. Exhausted, he yells out that he wants to sleep. In the film’s subplot, an old man is convinced by some thugs to fake his own death and burial in Turkey so that he can come out with a clean financial slate. This man is now in a coffin in a hearse in Cairo. 3okal bumps into the hearse and asks the man in the coffin to stop being selfish with his bed, drags him out of the coffin, and climbs in and passes out. He wakes up sober and in Turkey. He believes he’s still in Egypt, which provides with some of the funniest monologues I’ve ever seen : “Who are you people?… Did you invade the country? What’s the palace doing by the ocean?…Wasn’t this statue riding a horse before?” Finally he hears the voice of “El-Sayeda Umm Kulthum” and follows it to its source; the camera pans upwards and you see the sign: The Egyptians’ Coffeeshop. And his adventures begin proper.
Another movie I saw in Egypt was Osama Fawzi’s Amelie-like “Ba5ib el-Seema” (I Love the Movies). It tells the story of a coptic family in the seminal year of 1966-67. The father is extremely strict and makes his 7 year-old son believe his movie addiction will land him in hell. The film features a sex scene with the father and Laila Elwy, in which she is on top and her night robe is still on. She rides up and down his cock for about 4 seconds and he comes. I was the only person laughing in the theater. Loudly. But within minutes, I was weeping. Because Elwy delivered a terrific speech about how he never loved her, and always thought of sex as something bad and dirty that he wanted to get out of himself as fast as possible. The film’s arc is built on the father’s reformation from angry tyrant to happy family man. In my other favorite scene, the father’s riding a bicycle on the beach with his son while the sun sets and the voice over is Gamal Abdel Nasser’s resignation speech. I really hope the movie gets subtitles and comes to the US.
The third movie I saw in Egypt was Ali Ragab’s “Khalty Faransa” (My aunt Faransa [France]). She is named Faransa because when she was born, her father (who is brilliantly played by an actor who died during filming) thought she looked too blonde and pretty to be his own and divorced her mother. He then goes on to say, in one of the film’s best scenes, that someone told him how his great great great grandma was raped by a Frenchman and thus blonde hair and blue eyes became a family trait- and so he embraced his daughter and named her Faransa. He says when he dies and goes to heaven, he wants to see this great great great grandma and find out for himself if she was a decent woman or a prostitute to the French. I saw the movie in a crowded theater with Ahmad, Muhammad, and Hatem. The Egyptian people make the best live film critics on the planet. There was a healthy discussion about the film’s themes going on in the seats surrounding us. The movie is about a baltagiyya who is hired by people to ruin weddings and beat up protesters; who pickpockets in buses; who raises her pickpocket sister’s daughter after said sister is arrested with husband for robbery. The movie’s first 15 minutes were hilarious. There was a serious mishmash of genres which made it difficult to swallow, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. My favorite part was a torture scene in a room that looked like it was straight out of Gotham city– complete with fan and blue smoke. Faransa and her nieces are tied to crosses and beaten and questioned by rich thugs. The sets cracked me up because, as Hatem pointed out, there was a mini-cross for the small niece. When did they have time to make this cross?
Egyptian film is better than anything I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see “Alexandria-New York,” Yousef Chahine’s newest.