From Cairo

in 35th Cairo International Film Festival

by Patrizia Pistagnesi

It is not easy to talk about the Cairo International Film Festival without considering the context in which this edition was run. The city was crowded and excited, given the mobilization against the attack on the constitution and the democratic process by the President and his supporters. There was a bright confusion everywhere, inevitably reaching even the beautiful Opera House and its screening rooms, despite the heroic efforts of the festival staff.

It was to be expected that the same fever would be found in the International Competition for Long Feature Films, at least in films from the Arabic world. But perhaps we must wait to see the best cinematic reflections on the Arab Spring. As a matter of fact, the film we considered the best was the Venezuelan Breach in The Silence (Brecha en el silencio), by Luis Alejandro and Andrés Eduardo Rodriguez, two directors who have previously made documentaries and been heavily involved in social work. The film is about the hot subject of family sexual abuse, in the context of a poor and miserable social environment. It is the story of Ana, who has speaking and hearing impairments, and is constantly abused by the husband of her unconscious mother. The film follows her growing awareness and her struggle to rescue herself and her brother and sister.

The filmmakers reveal the secret meaning and psychological and existential implications of abuse and violence within the family. Their cinematic language is really impressive, audacious, and sometimes just a little baroque. There are moments of deep, intense emotion and of great significance, such as the scene in which the mother stares from the room’s threshold at her children, who are giving each other a sympathetic and desperate hug. The character of Ana – played by Vanessa di Quattro, who won the Best Actress Prize from the International Jury – will remain before our eyes for a long time, without speaking or shouting, only with the force of her expressiveness caught and emphasized by the camerawork.

The relationships of women in a society in social and cultural decay are also the subject of the Greek film Three Days of Happiness (Tris meres eftihias), by Dimitri Athanitis. This film is more ambitious but perhaps less successful. It tells the story of three young women struggling to find their way out of a traumatic and violent life. But the director-screenwriter has not managed to completely work out the parallel storylines of the three characters – not even using one of the women, Irina, as the heart of their connection. We long for a wider, extended story which could tell us more about the characters, their deep motivations, their emotional responses in the face of such dramatic events. The director evidently tried to overcome script problems with a somber style which is rigorous, quite expressionist, and sometimes original. But he leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions.

A young woman tells us about a father-son relationship in Anna Novion’s Rendezvous in Kiruna (Rendezvous à Kiruna). This is a classical, traditional, well- made movie which found favor with the International Jury and won the Gold Pyramid. Full of honest emotion and enriched by the performance of actors such as Jean-Pierre Darrousin, this French film nevertheless lacks the originality and knowledge of cinematic language which we might expect to see from a talented young director like Novion.

With regard to the few Arabic films shown in the International Competition for Long Feature Films, I would mention Death Triangle (Segoshai marg) from Iraq/Kurdistan, the first feature by Adrian Osman. Osman has the brilliant and original idea of presenting the dramatic subject of the escape to a European paradise as a sort of a genre film, something between a thriller and a horror movie. But the film is just an interesting attempt, because it remains in the uncertain field of unexpressed intentions, somewhere like the frightening tunnel that the fugitives have to go through to escape.

It remains to mention the impressive portraits of women in almost all the Arabic films, as in the Iranian The Private Life of Mr. & Mrs. M (Zendegi-e khosousi-e agha va Khanom-e Mim) by Rouhollah Hejazi, or even the Tunisian The Kingdom of Ants (Le royaume des fourmis) by Chawki Mejri, with its tragic, theatrical masks. Here we find an echo of one of the Tahrir Square’s most popular slogans: the Islamists say that women must keep silent, we say that the voice of woman is the voice of revolution.

Edited by Lesley Chow