The opening film of this years’ Cairo International Film Festival was reminiscent of another film with a similar subject, shown two years ago at the same festival: Khuda Kay Liye (In the Name of God, Shoaib Mansoor, 2007). It received the Silver Pyramid Award for Best Picture. This years’ opener New York deals with the same political issue: the post-9/11 prejudices and apparently haphazard imprisonments and torture of any assumedly terrorist. New York is the second Bollywood film by Indian film director Kabir Khan. The movie has become a big success not only in its home country, but also in the UK, Australia and the US, and it also was well attended during the Festival. Questioning pretty harshly the methods of the US in their war on terror, New York provides an interesting view on that issue from ‘the other side’. Khan criticises the simplistic formula with which the FBI considers a man a terrorist: it might be the colour of someone’s skin or his/her religion or outward appearance that qualifies. The goal is to explain how government torture and prejudice create hatred and provoke further terrorist activity by formerly peaceful citizens. Although Khan’s realization has much less music and dancing than other Bollywood flicks, he unfortunately overloads his second feature with a lot of melodrama, which undermines its otherwise ambitious content. Nevertheless, Cairo as the hub of Arabian Cinema seems to be the right place for such a notion, as it appears to me more and more, that it does not only matter which film you see, but also where you see it. Anyway, New York set a strong political pitch for the festival, and opened the International Competition for Long Feature Films.
In their midst both gems and disappointments; Le Herisson (The Hedgehog) for example, which won the FIPRESCI prize, a delightful first feature by the young French director Mona Achache (28), a name that should be kept in mind; or, Postia Pappi Jaakobile (Letters to Father Jacob) by Finish director Klaus Haro, a very touching, intimate play. Worth mentioning is also the Russian contribution Odna Voyna (One War), the first feature film from fifty-three-year-old actress Vera Glagoleva, who demonstrates a distinguished intuition for sensitive issues. Particularly interesting was the Egypt film Nile Birds, an epic set in Cairo, that illustrates the disappearance of the middle class in the Egyptian society, something that results in social and political upheaval. Almost incidentally the film highlights different forms of suffering of women under these social changes. Written and directed by Magdy Ahmed Aly, the film profits from a remarkable set design (Esaad Younes) and skilful cinematography (Dr. Ramsis Marzouk).
Since film critics are journalists, and journalists like to find common ground in order to scent tendencies and new developments, it might be said that there was a slight tendency for nudity in the selected films and that there was a remarkable number of blind characters – three in number, and another one pretending to be blind! – as well as characters with other varied abilities; two ‘dumb’ girls and a one-legged beggar. The most curious phenomena appeared just once; an Italian lingerie fetishist, a frozen Argentinian cat in a freezer, and a poisoned, but still very vivid French goldfish in a toilet. What all this means with regard to contemporary cinema in connection to Argentinian freezers and French toilets remains uncertain. As for the nudity, it might be an effective weapon against film critics, pretending to be blind.
Edited by Tara Judah
© FIPRESCI 2009