Mr. Romance: Restless clutter

In the universe of producer Mohamed El Sobky’s movies characters slap each other for no discernible reason and the slightest movement by either actor or camera requires a badly-timed comedic sound effect ten decibels too loud.  

El Beh Romanci (Mr. Romance) –the first starring-role vehicle for Mohamed Imam, son of national comedy treasure Adel Imam – has no plot, just a series of set-ups for a barrage of consistently unfunny jokes. Our lead likes to drink and smoke and degrade women. He drives a red sports car with the word "TIGER" printed across its side. He has an overweight friend. They go out, get wasted, hoist random girls over their shoulders and take them home, caveman style.

This goes on for a bit until, through some laughable –but definitely not funny– turn of events, our hero finds himself in a situation where he must marry a decent, "untouched" girl within a month, or lose out on some dead relative’ fortune. But, as every male character in the film is quick to point out, there are no "untouched" girls left. "Just go down to the disco and see for yourself," we are told before being dragged off to the same dingy basement "disco" seen in all previous Sobky films, with the same flabby, bruised girls staggering around like zombies in stilettos.

 Naturally, the character’s complex dilemma requires a well-thought-out solution, and the film takes its time finding one, without ever actually moving in that direction. Instead, the filmmakers are content to explore dubious and sensationalist subplots that go nowhere, such as the woman who repeatedly gets raped by an invisible demon.

The film does raise a few questions, however, like why is a scene of a couple in bed together spliced with footage of an aquarium, with cartoonish kissy noises edited to the movement of fish mouths? And why would a group of men decide to "cure" a woman by punching and kicking her over and over?  And that’ only one of El Beh Romanci many problems; it’ not so much self-contradictory as restlessly schizophrenic.

After countless scenes of "Tiger" romancing (read: abusing) a cast of desperate female extras, he declares his love to Shereen (played by Nahla Zaki) because his mother informs him that she’ a decent, well brought-up girl; She’ carrying textbooks when we first see her –a rare specimen of the "untouched" kind.

She spurns him, he calls her a whore behind her back, and ten minutes later they’e dancing at their wedding. They’re joined by the entire cast for the song-and-dance sequence necessary for bringing closure to any Egyptian comedy. Valuable life lessons are learned along the way, mainly that there are still some girls with values out there, and that the way to seduce them is to stand under their window and lip-sync to an old love song while insisting that you’e not as sleazy as they might have heard. 

The film’s real mystery, however, is its casting. While the women are predictably terrible –especially Lebanese singer Dominique Hourani whose performance was anything but seductive. It’s veteran actress Lebleba (in the role of the mother) and Imam himself who provide the film with emotional resonance.

The same can be said of Hassan Hosny who plays the father. But the real tragedy is that Imam, in his first starring role, has presented an uncharismatic character. Furthermore, his performance is a straight-up imitation of his father’ instantly recognizable shtick –the look of resignation, the subtle head-bobbing, the eye-brow arching and the yelling in confused tones. It’ all there, and it all fails horribly, adding a whole new dimension of desperation to the film.

And the less said about Imam’s obese sidekick the better.  At one point during the film, Imam’ character styles himself after legendary singer Abdel Halim Hafez in order to prove to the object of his affection that he’ a man of taste and class. This scene, with the son of the Arab world’ most popular actor awkwardly paying tribute to the artists of the past, raises a potentially chilling question: If El Beh Romanci is the work of a generation "honoring" a glorious past, what can we expect from the next wave of filmmakers who’l grow up on so-called "films" like this? Fear the future.  

A good film will entertain, but a great film can change the way you think, simultaneously providing insight and raising serious questions. El Beh Romanci definitely changed the way I think –it killed most of my brain cells. It also raised several questions: Why was this movie made? Who was it made for? And most importantly: How can something so meaningless be so offensive? Overall, it’s incoherent, loud, offensive and worst of all, slow.     

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