Yousry Nasrallah's Conciliation between the Mainstream and the Artistic: "Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces"

in 69th Locarno International Film Festival

by Ahmed Shawky

Ahmed El Sobky’s name (the most hated producer by Egyptian intelligentsia) is emblazoned on the credits of a film participating in the main competition of Locarno International Film Festival, Yousry Nasrallah is using a sha’abi song (belonging to the working class) performed by famed singer Mahmoud El Lithy while a belly dancer next to him swirls around libidinously. Two phrases seemingly out of the ordinary, yet they better describe how we witnessed a peace treaty between art-house and mainstream cinema that created an enjoyable gem of a film.

Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces is an alternative for unnecessary classifications. It uses the best of mainstream filmmaking (from stars to spices and melodramatic plotlines) to draw in the public without sinking into a bowl of banality. It also benefits from its director’s stylistic approach without being “too art-house-y”, as in strictly stylistic, intellectually superior and unapologetically disdainful of drawing intimate interaction from the audience whose cinema “supposedly” depicts their problems and dreams.

More Youthfulness… Less Theorizing

In his most recent film, Nasrallah goes back to his free-spirited roots, vividly evident in his first two features Summer Thefts 1988, Mercedes 1993, and his documentary Boys and Girls, 1995. In the three previous examples, Nasrallah was mainly concerned with his protagonists; their lives and relationships with all their complexities, contradictions and dynamics with respect to their inner struggles. In Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces, Nasrallah deviates from his main concern and chronicling the political in some of his later works, where his use of a stylized framework might have pushed his characters to the background. Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces is more involved in his protagonists’ enriching, engaging world; that of wedding caterers in the countryside.

Among the film’s highest points is the sense of humor, passed on through toying with the secret language that these caterers use between themselves to get out of trouble or transmit information without being detected by their respective employers. Weaving this idea of “cinema” having its own linguistic code that secretly ties a filmmaker to loyal audiences with the secret code of the caterers, we find marvelous revealing points of the story and the medium, such as when the bride’s brother calls out using one of the codes, unknowingly urging one of the caterers to go along and have sex with his – the brother’s – wife, as all is “quiet on the western front” and there’s no danger in sight!

On Love and Other Demons

Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces is a testament to the power of love, life and art through an authentic relationship that is as complex as it is alluring between Reffat, the cook (Bassem Samra) and his fiancée/cousin Kareema (Menna Shalaby). This arranged marriage due to familial obligations becomes a mutual conspiracy between them to help each other in pursuing love elsewhere. Through Reffat and Kareema, Nasrallah liberates souls, defying moral and societal restrictions with fervency.

The film is shot in realistic countryside locations. Samir Bahzan’s camera transports us into an authentic set with vivid colors whether through décor, props or costumes. Brooks.. is a film about the sanctity of life above all. No better example than a man whose testament on his 40th day memorial service is for his children to go out in the fields, enjoy the barbecue, brooks, meadows and lovely faces, without shedding tears or wailing, something which could have given them more societal approval yet it would destroy their philosophy of life as culinary artists who understand how to live life to the fullest.

Translated from Arabic by Jaylan Salah, edited by Amber Wilkinson