I voluntarily went to the cinema to watch Donia tonight. It turned out to be a particularly foolish act of masochism.
My interest in the film derived from the fact that media reviews had touted it as a bold film which crosses Egyptian cinematic red lines, tackles thorny issues such as female genital circumcision and, as a result of this audacity, had been banned by those reactionary killjoys with their busy scissors at the Ministry of Mind Control. Egyptian films seem largely to fall into one of two broad categories; arty/independent or mass consumption, by which latter is meant either Ahmed Ezz or Hany Salama in a car chase, or Mostafa Qamar/Khaled Selim running in slow motion on a beach with Dalia el Bekheiry/Nelly, all laughing uproariously at some unheard joviality and the sheer magic of life. Having had my fill of implausible plot lines and la la land Egypt First, what Religious Sectarianism?© propagandising with el Raheena , I looked forward to watching Donia. By the end of it I was longing (even more strongly than I usually do) for Ahmed Ezz surviving a 4000 foot drop off a cliff, and Russian actors pretending to be American. As Sharshar said once he had regained his ability to talk after seeing it “law makanoosh mana3ooh kont ana hamna3oo” [If they hadn’t have banned it, I would have.]
The film simply had no plot, but rather was a series of the following self-contained, apparently unrelated scenes: [Excruciatingly long, but friends share pain, right?]
- Hanan Turk does Kate Bush style dancing in a circle, while a very camp Walid Aouni with a frankly ridiculous accent (yes yes kettle and pot) and Corella Deville hairstyle entreats her to “truly feel the music” and “focus all her weight on the pivot” as she is “surrounded by the universe…the UNIVERSE….the never-ending UNIVERSEEEEE” as he himself waves his arms in the manner young children use to represent trees swaying in the wind during school plays.
- Fathy Abdel Wahab lurks in waiting for Hanan in a pervy stalker manner, and confesses his love for her after he descends upon her. Hanan rebuffs him in a playful way, but her cheeky smile, and the fact that she is standing so close to him that she is practically inhaling his nipple, tells us that she is Hot for Him.
- An overweight woman appears in a very short nightgown and belly dances.
- Mohamed Mounir rails against the banning of 1001 Nights.
- Hanan dances again, this time against the backdrop of a giant poster which is meant to be her mother. That it is actually Hanan Turk is plainly obvious to all.
- Aida Riad drives a taxi while smoking, for she is a Woman Who Doesn’t Give a Fig About Social Conventions.
- Mohamed Mounir rails against the banning of 1001 Nights, this time while topless and wiping his sweaty face all over the body of a woman wearing 407 bangles.
- Fathy jumps out from behind Aida’s taxi and tells Hanan that he loves her.
- Hanan dances. Walid is camp.
- Four overweight women dressed in what can only be described as opaque coloured cling film belly dance.
- Mohamed Mounir rails against the banning of 1001 Nights, but this time he is blind. He has lost his vision at some indeterminate moment - possibly during the five minutes that my companions and I were debating whether to get up and leave.
- Aida drives her taxi.
- Fathy and Hanan marry. Hanan wears a wedding dress made out of paper, and gets on the back of a lorry carrying a wardrobe, laughing playfully.
- Hanan and Fathy experience problems in the bedroom, largely because Hanan is eggs and consumed by feminist and existentialist angst which she simply must share with both us and poor old Fathy, who himself just wants a bit of how’s your father.
- Mohamed Mounir, this time not railing against the banning of 1001 Nights, teaches a young boy letters drawn in the sand, in an isolated spot in the desert. Blind Mohamed is led by the arm placed on the young boy’s shoulder, but nonetheless insists on extending the other arm in front of him in a comedy sleep walking manner, just in case he should bump into any buildings left carelessly in the desert.
- Hanan dances, but this time a pouting Walid is angry with her for absenting herself for ten days. He lambastes her in a super bitch way while sitting on a stool a la Boy George, clutching an invisible handbag. Hanan works through her rage by attempting to dance, in a defiant Rocky manner, but Walid and his handbag tell her that “she is not really with him.” Hanan responds by removing the pencil holding up her hair and breaking it in two (why??). The music ends dramatically with the snap and a close-up on the pencil and Hanan’s slightly squinting eyes. Walid fumes. The scene brought to mind a preposterous homosexual Million Dollar Baby. On the ground surrounding Hanan are ten male dancers doing backstroke. We don’t know why.
- Aida drives her taxi with Mohamed Mounir railing against the banning of 1001 Nights in the back.
- Hanan dances, and then Walid makes her eat a rose.
- Mohamed Mounir enters a music store and rails against the banning of 1001 Nights. Meanwhile, the audience wonders whether the director deliberately left a poster advertising Mounir’s latest album in plain view behind him. Is this post-modern irony or an oversight?? Do we care??
- Mohamed Mounir rails against the banning of 1001 Nights, and receives a gift of an uncensored Indian version of the tome, brought to him by Hanan. He briefly regains his vision and sees the birthmark on Hanan’s neck. Sharshar says that the birth mark switched between the right and left sides of Hanan’s neck. This shouldn’t be attributed to continuity problems of course. Rather, it symbolises the constant objectification of women in Egyptian society.
- Mohamed Mounir rails against the banning of 1001 Nights while feeling up Hanan.
- Being felt up by Mohamed Mounir resolves Hanan’s bedroom issues.
- More overweight belly dancing.
And so it went, on and on and on. It was all so highly symbolic as to be entirely stripped of fun and entertainment, but then again maybe me and my companions were too dense to see what the bloody hell eating a rose means. It will however, be well-received Outside by men in glasses wearing polo necks because its scenes with prayer beads conspicuous in the foreground and the obligatory sound of the muezzin inevitably transform it into a damning critique of the socio-economic dichotomy of gender roles in contemporary Arab society blah blah blah.
About the only scene which moved me in any way was that depicting a female circumcision, which was leg-crossingly horrific and quite well done.
We all left the cinema to the sound of my friend Amour dispensing various mother-related invectives against the film’s directors. Amour is 20, his favourite pastimes are looking at Haifa Wahby pictures and playing sadda radda, and his best film is Titanic. We bonded in my last job when I explained female menstruation to him and he repaid the favour by making me a George Wassouf cocktail. Were it not for the fact of Amour’s jubilance about the recent news that his army service had been delayed for three years, I fear that an act of violence could have been committed in the cinema tonight.
This weekend I am going to see Ma7atet Masr to get the taste of Donia out of my mouth. So to speak.