Terror. Cairo Calls for Caution By Steve Ayorinde

in 29th Cairo International Film Festival

by Steve Ayorinde

At its 29th edition that was held between November 29th and December 9th 2005, the Cairo International Film Festival sent a clear message that it was in tune with the rest of the world and in doing more than sparing a thought on how to address the menace of terrorism, often fuelled by religious fundamentalism.

Cairo’s intervention came through some four films in competition, which cast various eyes on the epidemic of terror-related disturbances in some specific parts of the world.

Considering that four out of the 15 films in competition took a cursory look at this global concern, Cairo’s sensitivity to the issue that is of special worry to the Arab world and the Middle East in general is noteworthy in a year that many critics and festival goers considered one of the worst in its official selection.

The entries from the host country Egypt, Iraq and Germany treated different aspects of the 2003 Iraqi war or invasion by the America-led ‘Coalition of the willing’, depending on which film. India on the other hand presented a film, In The Name of God, (Daivanamathil) by Kerala-born director, Jayaraj, with a focus on the vestiges of Islamic fundamentalism in India. Even though China and its film industry was the special focus of the festival this year, the theme of terror especially about Iraq was the recurrent theme in some of the films in competition.

The Egyptian film, The Night Baghdad Fell (Laylat Suquot Baghdad) by director Mohamed Amin took a comical route to convey the anxiety in the Arab world over which country might be next after Iraq ‘s occupation by America and its allies. A secondary school headmaster, Shaker (Hassan Hosni) is the haunted, but hardly plausible character, who, fearing humiliation from a possible attack by the Americans decides to sponsor a former student whiz kid to manufacture a weapon capable of defending Egypt from the American bombs.

The Night Baghdad Fell does not pretend to be ambitious in any seriously artistic or technical way. It could have in fact asked concerned parties in the issue to laugh off the invasion of Iraq and manages to get away with this seeming unserious ness. But the veiled message in it is not missed. Director Amin envisages that the onslaught on the Middle East might be far from over, and therefore Iraq ‘s fate ought to generate concerns among those directly concerned than breeding a herd of suicide bombers. Yet, he has a teasingly sensuous way of getting back at the ‘aggressor’ through the absurdly hilarious acting that ran through most part of its 107 minutes.

Ahlam, a film by the Iraqi director, Mohamed Al-Daradji, which is a co-production with the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, is the most mentally engaging of the films that focused on terror-related theme. Presented in a somewhat deliberately disjointed way, it is perhaps one of the notable feature films to date that fully depict other areas of life that are affected by the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign by America in Baghdad. Ahlam is the traumatic story of a character by the same name who is caught between the warring Iraqi factions and the American army, after the mental hospital she was taken to is bombed.

The film is equally the story of two other inmates of the mental home, a former soldier traumatized by the American bombings of his platoon in 1998 and an idealist doctor who represents a sort of bridge that seeks to connect the rot of the present to the faint hope of the future.

However, the most dramatically accomplished, perhaps, is Seeds of Doubt (Folgeschaden) by German director, Samir Nasr, which looks at the consequences of the 9/11 destructions in the United States in the small family of an Algerian doctor and his German wife in their home in Germany. The husband, Tariq, is suspected as a ‘sleeper’ (a hidden terrorist), after it was discovered that he was filmed at the wedding of one of the 9/11 hijackers. A tight drama for the better part of its 90 minutes, Seeds of Doubt is a courageous attempt in suspense as much as it is a revelation on the potential volatility that often characterizes marital unions of two culturally and religiously different partners.

While the build up of tension and suspense is believable, the resolution, both in exonerating Tariq and in restoring the bliss in his marriage is not so beautiful. Except for the gorgeous acting by the lead female character, Silke Bodenbender, the end of the film nearly turned into an anti-climax.

The style of In The Name of God, is a look at terrorism from the personal and emotional angle of a young, broad-minded Muslim wife whose husband, Anwar, is lured into a Jihadi after the demolition of the Barbari Masjid (mosque) in 1992. The young man suffers the consequences of being a terrorist after he was given up for arrest by his wife upon planting a bomb in a shop where a man dies and a little girl loses a leg. The import of the film, almost like a television newsreel, is in the intellectual opposition to the rise of extremism presented by the wife and her father in-law.

In The Night Baghdad Fell, Shaker has to give his daughter away in ‘marriage’ to the weapon maker just to make him comfortable. The whiz kid soon gets his manhood rhythm back after using American images as sexual parody, and therefore gives a hint of ’till death do us part’ ending.

Interestingly, however, the family unit or more precisely, the marriage institution plays a pivotal role in the progression of all the films, but ironically it is also the aspect that often exposes the flaws in the treatment of their subject matter.