The Problems and Issues of the African Continent

in 11th Luxor African Film Festival

by Fayza Hindawy

Last week, the activities of the eleventh edition of the Luxor African Film Festival concluded. The official competition for narrative films witnessed the participation of ten films from different countries of the continent. Apparently, problems and issues of the countries of the African continent dominated the themes of many of these films. Their respective filmmakers were interested in discussing particular African issues.  One of these films is the Cameroonian film The Agreement (L’accord), directed by Léa Malle Frank Thierry. The film is about the rape of a girl coming from a poor family, which happens at a party hosted by a wealthy man. The film explores the great class division in Cameroon between rich and poor, as well as the misery experienced by the poor. It also criticizes political corruption in Cameroon and the opportunism of politicians and their exploitation of the poor for the sake of political gain. It also discussed whether there is a best way to achieve justice. One of the good things about the film is that the director leaves an open end for the audience to decide individually on their own resolution. The film got a special mention from the Official Competition Jury.

Moving to another film, which is Maria Kristu; The Buumba story, directed by Paul S. Z. Paulo from Zambia, a film that brings out the suffering of women in the patriarchal society in some Zambian communities, which despise women and look down upon them, and do not allow women to fulfill their desires. The film is very daring, as it ends with a revolution against the religious system, the burning of the church as a societal symbol, the liberation of women from the clutches of men. But the film is weak in its cinematographic language and contains naive mistakes, especially in night scenes, where the lighting was exaggerated and not suitable for staying up late.

As for the Moroccan film Habiba, directed by Hassan Benjelloun, it revolves around the quarantine period since the early days of the Corona pandemic, and follows a girl studying music, who is forced to stay in the home of a blind music teacher for a while, due to prohibition measures. The spread of the coronavirus is accompanied by the rise of their love story, and the man proposes to her. However, her family strongly rejects the marriage, because of their customs and traditions that suppress the desires of women. All of them are against it, except for Habiba’s mother, who helps her escape, stating that a woman is better able to help a woman and win her cause if she puts her heart into it. Despite the delicacy of the film’s story, it did not succeed in confirming the love story on which the film was based, and did not pave the way for this love, neither sufficiently, nor convincingly.

The movie Massoud from Chad, directed by Emmanuel Rotoubam Mbaide, discusses the topic of religious extremism, through the story of a tolerant village sheikh. His young son joins terrorist groups who are trying to kill his father, because of his conviction that the Islamic religion calls for tolerance and renunciation of violence. The script was unconvincing, which was also reflected in the performance of the actors.

In addition, the Egyptian film No. 2, Talaat Harb Square reviews four political stages that have passed in Egypt since the beginning of the 1960s, during the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser, and then the era of Anwar Sadat in the 1970s, also that of Hosni Mubarak and the businessmen’s control of all political authorities and the revolution against this regime until June 30, 2013. The film reviews the influence of the political regime in each of these eras on social life and unfinished love stories, and directs the film. Written by Magdy Ahmed Ali, and co-starring Ahmed Magdy, Abeer Sabry, Sherif Helmy, and Samir Sabry, and he received a special mention from the Jury for Feature Films. The film also won the Young Independent Artists Foundation prize for Best Film, from the festival’s organisation.

Furthermore, the Somali film The Gravedigger’s Wife also participated in the competition. It is a film which highlights the poverty and misery in Somalia through the character of Guled, a grave digger who lives with his wife Nasra and their teenage son Mahed, in a slum in Djibouti. Despite the difficult life they face, they live a romantic love story, until Guled discovers that his wife suffers from chronic kidney disease, and she needs surgery  – amounting to 5,000 euro – to save her, which he has to provide within two weeks, and in a desperate attempt, he is forced to return to his mother’s village from which he fled to seek help.

The Gravedigger’s Wife is also the first Somali film to be shown in cinemas in the country since the outbreak of the civil war at the end of the 1980s, and it is also the first film to be submitted for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The film won the Fespaco Award, one of the most important film awards on the African continent.

It is the first feature film by Somali-Finnish director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, who succeeded in expressing in a beautiful cinematic language the economic crises and the extreme poverty of the Somali people. The film also highlights their insistence on life despite death, which dominates the atmosphere of the film. The fate of the film’s heroes is linked to the death of others: the husband earns money from people’s burials, and the wife would face death, if the husband is unable to provide the money needed for the operation. Despite telling the story of this miserable life, the director and his crew succeeded in creating a love story between Nasra and Gouled. Where the film shows love in the face of death through a good script, and actors who excelled in performing their roles. The film won the International Union of Critics Jury Prize, and the secondary and prize in the Feature Film Competition

Finally, the Grand Prize, the “Golden Mask of Tutankhamun” for the best feature film went to the Tunisian film Communion, by Najib Belkadhi. The film had its world premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival, where it previously received support from the Red Sea Fund. The film project also received an award at the Malmö Arab Film Festival, a colour-processing award at the Malmö Arab Film Festival market, and was also awarded a grant from the Arab Fund for Culture and Arts (AFAC).

 The events of the film take place in March 2020, during the quarantine period, as Sarah works from her home in the field of humanitarian work, and helps people whose condition has deteriorated due to the Coronavirus, while her husband, Qais, is diagnosed with mental disorders, but he cannot access his medication due to quarantine procedures. Communion is written, directed by Najib Belkadhi, and also stars in the film, together with Sohair Ben Amara.

The film belongs to the genre of psychological drama, as it discussed the effects of the pandemic on the lives of individuals, their economic, social, as well as psychological factors, by drawing the details of the daily life of the couple (Qais and Sarah) in light of the new changes, and the hero of the film suffers from a frustrating psychological state due to the decision to stop his salary and terminate his services. Due to his lack of confidence in himself and others, he decided not to have children.

Despite the difficulty of combining directing and starring in the film, especially since the character is complex and Belkadhi appears in most scenes, he succeeded in this challenge, and was able to direct the film distinctly, controlling all its elements, and to portray the psychological state of the hero, and to transmit it to the viewers using visual effects and tools. It’s shown in his directing, especially the movement of the camera and shooting from different angles, which conveys the ups and downs of the character throughout the events of the film. The use of black and white expresses the character’s psychological state, as well as the many contradictions in society, the corruption and miserable conditions of the refugees. The sound effects were also one of the most important factors for the success of the film in conveying the emotional state to the viewer.

Belkadhi, as an actor, was also able to present the psychopathic personality, identify its problems and complexities, and develop his psychological state, and used his tools to express the dramatic psychological structure of the personality represented by hand trembling and a wandering eye. It is the different gestures that express oscillation between disparate positions. Belkadhi also excelled in writing a well-woven, coherent and sophisticated screenplay. Choosing Souhir Ben Amara was appropriate to embody Sarah’s character, who suffers from the pandemic, and because she was affected by the circumstances she faces during her work. Communion is Belkadhi’s third feature film, after In My Eyes (2018) and Bastardo (2013), and the previous two films also discuss the mental and psychological health of the characters.

Fayza Hindawy
Edited by Savina Petkova