An Emirati Movie from A to Z

in 8th Abu Dhabi Film Festival

by Tarek el-Shinnawi

Loads of ambition has accompanied this movie by Emirati director Ali Mustafa, as it is a dream for Gulf cinema directors. What is meant by the title is ‘From Abu Dhabi to Beirut’. That is the journey that the three friends undertake: the Egyptian Shady Alfons, the Saudi Yousif Al-Bteery and the Syrian Fadi Refa’ey, as the dreams differentiate and the problems vary. It is a journey mixed with sorrow and loyalty with a political tinge as it was synchronized with spring revolutions as they were happening at the end of 2011, so the director had to make his point. You can’t help but see a strong will to present an Emirati movie to strongly reply to a saying we kept on hearing at the beginning of Dubai Film Festival around ten years ago which was, how come we make Gulf festival while we don’t have any cinema? Do pens create festivals? Or is it the other way around? And lately the answer has come when the festivals gave birth to movies. Anyway this was not the first movie in Emirates, a movie for the same director ‘Dar Al-Hai’ was displayed five years ago at Dubai Festival, as it pulled up the topic of coexistence inside Emirates where many different nationalities reaching 200 reside together under the umbrella of a civilized system that puts human rights first.

The movie tries to catch a thread to move around between some Arabic issues and slightly touch several social aspects. With Mohammed Hafzy as a scriptwriter, many of the visual and dramatic movie elements needed to be creatively revised so that it wouldn’t appear as just some character shadows. The scenario started with a brilliant idea, but as he stopped at the Saudi border for a check-up and switched the serious situation into a joke, he also hesitantly stopped at deepening in the social criticism, and the scenario hasn’t had the creative flare. The director Ali Mustafa was in touch with those situations carefully and sensitively, only talking about the Saudi youth that wants independence from his father’s control but economically is dependent on him. The overland journey starts from Abu Dhabi, as it is where the three heroes reside, and then moves to Saudi then Dara’a in Syria then finally to Beirut where their deceased friend’s grave is. And we discover at that moment that he was Christian. The director was socially and politically fair and couldn’t – or it seems that he purposely didn’t want to – share in that thorny issue which is the Arabic Spring Revolution and choosing Syria with its current complicated situation, so he answered that he is with the people and against murder and he didn’t blame either the revolution or Bashar. He just aimed his anger to the armed terrorism to stay unbiased. The trip is undertaken for the deceased fourth Lebanese friend, to make his wish come true and to have the old idiom true again which says ‘choose the fellow before choosing the road’. However, the film is loaded with many situations that should have been seen as an objective equalizer to life, while the movie is more to be seen as an equivalent to the old black & white Egyptian cinema in its legacy that is made upon the necessity to find the spicy joke because it is an archival situation at the end of the day. The goal was to create a space that carries attractiveness just because it fills an era, so it sounded heavy for the scenario and spoiled the rhythm as well as, from another point, making the movie lose its focus on the dramatic and visual level.

The movie falls in the frame of ‘road cinema’, a journey that took the heroes days and gives them the chance to move around between characters and also to various turning points. This common cinematic mould looks on the surface as if it gives the director the ultimate freedom, while it in fact puts all this in a strict artistic frame and it is unfortunately what the movie makers couldn’t cross except for a little bit. The movie has introduced a talented artist, one of Bassem Yousef’s show crew, Shady Alfons as he was outstanding and spontaneous. And despite all these notes, we are on the way to a correct step on the way to be not just a mere step!

Edited by Rich Cline