The selection of films in this year’s film festival brought a few jewels to the Egyptian audience amidst a myriad of disappointing feature films. The obvious lack of any semblance in the selection process resulted in a general lack of artistic quality among the 17 movies screened in the 10-day Cairo International Film Festival.
Despite the abundance of films lacking the artistic quality required for a world-class international film festival, three movies stood out from the pack. The rest of the films had their strong moments, but overall lacked the depth, nuance and quality to sustain the interest of the audience.
"I Saw the Sun" by Turkish director Mahsun Kirmizigul was screened on the first day of the festival and told the story of three Kurdish families forced to emigrate from their village on the Turkish-Iranian border in the early 1990s in the aftermath of Turkey’s fierce crackdown on Kurdish guerrillas in the area. The Finnish film "Letters to Father Jacob" was screened on Saturday, and awed the audience with its story of a faith that transcends all religious beliefs. The third stand-out film entitled "The Splinter" was a Polish submission that featured an unconventional timeline and impressive performances by several actors.
Two Indian films tackled the phenomenon of terrorism and its consequences on the lives of people, albeit from different angles. "New York" depicted the lives of three young Indian college students in New York whose lives were irrevocably changed following the events of 11 September, 2001. One student is detained for months after being falsely suspected of planning a terrorist attack, only to later become involved in planning attacks in order to regain his lost honor. This dark and fast-paced movie is stylistically far removed from classic Bollywood cinema, which lost some of its appeal with the great success of "Slumdog Millionaire" among non-Indian audiences. The second film "Madholal Keep Walking" depicts the story of a simple man and his family whose lives are shattered by a train explosion in Mumbai. The father loses an arm in the incident and becomes consumed by his fear of future terrorist attacks. His wife and beloved daughters make futile attempts to help him become the joyous man he used to be. Unfortunately, the movie’s colorless dialogue and slow pace make the story feel artificial and a feeling of boredom quickly overwhelms the audience.
The Lithuanian film "Vortex" was also rather boring. "Vortex" narrates the grim childhood of Jusik, who grew up in a Soviet kolkhoz (a collective farm), and follows his life into his mid-30s. Jusik is supported by the strong women around him who manage to keep him sane; however, when he is abandoned by them, he falls into an unfathomable despair. Despite the artistic feel conveyed by the film’s black and white narration, the movie concluded with audible yawning and snoring emanating from throughout the theater.
However, a film by the French director Mona Achache woke the crowd. "The Hedgehog", starring the famous French actor Josiane Balasko, warmed the hearts of the audience as it tells the story of a fat, ugly and rather unpleasant woman who works as a doorwoman in a posh Parisian building. While on the surface she embodies the ideal stereotype of her profession, her appearance is merely a veneer which hides a cultivated and elegant mind. The building is also home to the peculiar young girl Paloma, who is strikingly bright, yet extremely lonely. After an old Japanese man moves into the building and uncovers the secret of the doorwoman, the three characters develop a precious friendship which develops throughout the film.
The sole Portuguese film in the competition, "Amalia" retells the life of the famous singer Amalia Rodrigues, who was one of Portugal’s greatest singers in the 1950s and ’60s. When Salazar’s dictatorship ends after 48 years as president, rumors arise that the singer collaborated with the fallen regime and her fame is inevitably tarnished. The film, although possessing all the ingredients of a fairly successful movie (beautiful actress, extraordinary story and an interesting historical background) lacked both sincerity and simplicity.
From the Asian entrees, the sole Chinese film, "Tiny Dust … True Love", was a striking contribution that told the story of a young girl who interrupts her studies and moves from the countryside to the picturesque city of Qingdao to have her mother’s illness treated in the city’s hospital. Her mother requires an expensive operation which is significantly beyond the modest means of her family. Thanks to a benevolent radio presenter, her story is broadcast across the city, and the citizens, heart-broken by this sad story, begin making donations to the Red Cross to pay for the surgery. Each of the more than 50 characters in the film overflowed with generosity, yet lacked any real complexity, leaving the viewers with the impression that the film was a propaganda flick for the country of China.