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.
CREDITS 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.
There are a lot of contemporary films about city life, about young women, about precarious living arrangements, and about getting older and losing some of the connections that brought you together at university and in your 20s, and most of them sort of glide on by as just so much cinematic filler, not bad but hardly memorable. But this Korean film has a little something extra, a very poised and precise framing, and an excellent central performance, which really brings out the pathos and the quiet desperation without any excess or even much in the way of extraneous dialogue. The film holds a warm yet slightly quizzical distance from Mi-so (Esom), a 30-something woman who is still working as a cleaner and has given up her small apartment because the rent has gone up and she’d rather not give up her small vices (cigarettes, primarily, and a glass of whisky every so often too). She reconnects with her former bandmates from college as she sorts out where to live, but this isn’t a Nick Hornby film, and meeting them only emphasises the different paths they’ve all travelled. And so we’re left with the melancholy, after a fashion, but it’s all just so achingly evoked.
CREDITS Director/Writer Jeon Go-woon 전고운; Cinematographer Kim Tae-soo 김태수; Starring Esom 이솜, Ahn Jae-hong 안재홍; Length 106 minutes. Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Thursday 4 April 2019.
RETROSPECTIVE SCREENING FILM REVIEW || Director/Writer Satyajit Ray (based on the short story “Abataranika” by Narendranath Mitra) | Cinematographer Subrata Mitra | Starring Madhabi Mukherjee, Anil Chatterjee | Length 135 minutes | Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT1), London, Tuesday 20 August 2013 || My Rating excellent
If I had a personal credo when it comes to filmgoing — and I’m not sure I do, but I’ll have a bash at one now — it would be to keep yourself open to new things. Not new as in the most recent, but new as in stuff that challenges you, that presents visions of the world from perspectives you’d not seen before. I was recently followed by a blog called Adventures in the 8th Dimension, whose writer is dedicated to watching all the films in the 1,001 Movies to Watch Before You Die book, which is exactly the kind of online project I love. Now, of the book itself (and those of its ilk), there are plenty of things you could criticise (I personally hate the … Before You Die name of this series), though I have nothing at all against canons, best-ofs or curated lists of this kind, provided the source is very clear about the factors and biases that go towards creating that list. But more than that, I really appreciate the desire to use such a list as a means of engaging with a history and variety of filmmaking that extends far beyond the usual comfortable classics (your typical IMDb highest-rated) to take in examples from all the world’s nations and genres.