As one of the world’s great cities (and most ancient), plenty of films have been made and set in Cairo. Aside from the film in the title of this post, a pseudo-documentary fiction about the city focused on a filmmaker (for Cairo is also a centre for Arabic language filmmaking), I’ve also included a short review of a short film directed by the great Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine.
Somehow I’d got it into my head before going to see it that this was a documentary — a poetic documentary perhaps, a city symphony of sorts, but a documentary nonetheless. It’s not, but it does hover somewhere on a border that makes the fiction it tells somehow more imbued with melancholy and a sort of immediacy, even if it’s been over six years since the scenes were filmed. It also serves as an effective love letter to Cairo, a city in flux even as it was filmed, with buildings crumbling and disappearing. It uses the character of a filmmaker (Khalid Abdalla), making its fiction endlessly metatextual, as we see him manipulate the image, discuss the project with filmmaker friends, even commission the calligraphy which appears as this film’s title card in the end credits. There’s no grand plot besides his own work to finish the film, but there are threads of a life in turmoil: looking for a flat, nursing his mother, pining after his girlfriend, and fearing for friends in other war-torn Middle Eastern countries. It also doesn’t hurt that the Cairo the filmmaker captures is such a beautiful place, and plenty of the shots hardly need to do more than frame a sunset or a city skyline.
Director Tamer El Said تامر السعيد; Writers El Said and Rasha Salti رشا سلطي; Cinematographer Bassem Fayad باسم فياض; Starring Khalid Abdalla خالد عبد الله; Length 118 minutes.
Seen at ICA, London, Wednesday 27 September 2017.
القاهرة منورة بأهلها Al-Qahira Menauwwara bi Ahlaha (aka Le Caire… raconté par Youssef Chahine, Cairo As Told by Youssef Chahine, 1991)
There’s only so much you can do in a 23 minute running time, but the veteran Egyptian filmmaker tries to fit as much of his beloved and native Cairo in as he can. There’s a playful quality to the introduction, as he is seen accompanying a man to try and get a job, and then just as quickly reveals it to be a class for film students, who then ‘help’ him to create a picture of Cairo that dispenses with the tourist images and moves towards something that perhaps gets to what he values in the place and its people. It’s all very densely packed, but very engaging.
Director Youssef Chahine يوسف شاهين; Writer Sayed Aly; Cinematographer Tarek El-Telmisany طارق التلمساني; Length 23 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Monday 8 January 2018.