Friday, March 28, 2008

Lahazaat gamoosa*

I have recently watched two films with nearly all-female casts, Caramel, in which four women in Beirut subject us to their various trysts with men, and the appallingly-named Lahzaat Onootha (‘Moments of Femininity’ for crying out loud) in which four women in Cairo subject us to their various trysts with men.

There was no better celebration of International Women’s Day this March than watching adult women cry, fret and whine their way through the man-related trials which apparently dominate their entire existences. My invisible corset got tighter and tighter inducing an insurmountable feeling of nausea as around me various suffragettes raised themselves from the dead and clapped their hands in horror as their years of hunger-striking and chaining themselves to railings was undone by a woman in leggings crying over her boyfriend.

While Caramel compensated for the sophomoric storyline with excellent art direction, elements of humour and a highly-entertaining bonkers old woman, Moments of Femininity increased the already excruciating pain of its insufferable plot with acting so wooden I wanted to whittle a club out of it and beat myself to death.

But then there was not much that lead character Ola Ghanem et al could have done with a script this poor. A sense of camaraderie developed amongst the ten people in the audience watching the film when I went - much in the same way that people trapped in a sinking ship band together - and much of the film was spent exchanging mirthful comments about the quite spectacular direness of the film. It was a sort of group therapy. Midway through one man loudly declared “a failure of a scene from a failure of a scriptwriter,” which just about hits the nail on the head.

The film was essentially a series of disjointed and poorly-crafted scenes lumped together one after the other with little thought given to minor considerations such as plot credibility, continuity and the audience’s sanity.

Rather than trouble themselves with thinking up credible events, the film’s scriptwriters propelled the plot - for want of a better word - forward by engineering chance encounters in public venues so unlikely that we can only conclude that these characters live in a town with a total population of 6.

The first of these encounters occurs when Joumana Mourad – who suspects her bouffant-haired husband Wael (played by Ibrahim Yousry) is having an affair - busts him when she walks in on him schmoozing a woman in a bar. We have no idea at all how she deduced that he would be there but that is apparently little import.

This encounter is eclipsed by another bar scene, this time involving Nabil El-Hagrassy.

El-Hagrassy and his sideburns play the role of uncle to Amira, a widow with a young son who has started dating Mahmoud. Unbeknownst to Amira however, Mahmoud has started dating Amira after making a LE 200 bet with his work colleagues, which is understandable. He professes to genuinely loving her, which is not.

I have been unable to find out the name of the actress who plays Amira, which is a shame, because she should be commended for her unique ability to strip lines of any feeling or humanity entirely. She delivers lines in a tone similar to that of my mobile phone, which has a voice function and announces the identity of incoming calls. Only Amira does it with less passion.

In the bar scene Mahmoud’s colleagues are having a tipple when a scantily-clad somewhat bovine woman - who we are to believe is irresistibly seductive – walks past and the men consider making a bet to see which man can convince Ms. Bovine to go out with him, “like Mahmoud did with Amira.”

The camera pans to the table next to their and lo and behold! It’s Amira’s uncle and his sideburns sitting open-mouthed with Amira’s brother-in-law. The extremely camp El-Hagrassy prances over to the men’s table and starts a catfight before in the next scene preceding to drop the bombshell to Amira, who manages to cry while looking bored.

This chance encounter allows the director to waste five minutes during which we see Mahmoud pining for his lost love against flashbacks of him and Amira doing coupley things in various venues, to music.

These are the exact same scenes which we had to sit through when they first got together, and this happy event was conveyed to us through scenes of Mahmoud and Amira doing coupley things in various venues, to music.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, Hussein El-Imam makes a prat of himself playing the role of a playboy company manager constantly shadowed by two assistants, one Russian, one Thai.

Little can be said about the unedifying spectacle of the middle-aged El-Imam suddenly bursting into song and dance during a company meeting while holding a golf club and wearing sunglasses except that it will haunt my nightmares forever.

Whoever directed Moments of Femininity appears to think that it is perfectly acceptable to replace substance with salaciousness. This is the only explanation I have as to why a scene of three of the female leads asleep in bed wearing little other than full makeup is suddenly thrust upon us, before we then see Ola Ghanem and her bosoms showering to a soundtrack which sounds like it is borrowed from a 1980s light porn movie.

The scene is entirely unrelated to those which precede and follow it and serves no purpose whatsoever. Unless you are a 13 year-old boy without access to the Internet.

On the plus side, there were a few moments of high comedy, such as when Mahmoud in his grief bellowed “Amiraaaaaaaa!” underneath her balcony and sounded like the Incredible Hulk.

Also, one of the character’s hair moved backwards and forwards when he talked giving him the appearance of a man with a live mammal on his head.

In fact if it didn’t take itself so seriously Moments of Femininity could very easily have turned into a spoof.

This was a painful to endure film which could have addressed interesting issues such as women’s right to divorce, social perceptions of women in Egyptian society etc but instead chooses to take the path of fluffy, puerile and un-entertaining light entertainment.

Originally published in Daily News Egypt.

*Title courtesy of Sharshar.


Anonymous said...

Your critique was so amusing I now want to watch the film, especially to see the expresionless actress "who manages to cry while looking bored". Brilliant

Forsoothsayer said...

so many egyptian films are just plain beid that i no longer want to risk watching them. i heard caramel was ok tho from my least bedan tolerating friends (B and Y).
i have never quite managed to understand why you regard any interest in men as incompatible with feminism. i am quite sure that even suffragettes experienced heartbreak.

Anonymous said...

It seems I left Egypt so long ago I no longer understand all words!! Beid means eggs, no? then what is 'bedan'? By the way, in North Africa they call eggs '3athm' (like bones) & fish '7oot' (like whale).
I get the general gist of the words but would like to know the exact meaning if possible.

Forsoothsayer said...

beid and bedan are both references to testicles. used to mean some combination of cheesy/annoying/lame. you must have left egypt VERY long ago.

Anonymous said...

I left along with the Hyksos... a very tiresome trip,too hot & dusty! Kidding aside, I left about 25 years ago ( I guess that makes me almost as old as the Hyksos for you both). I do not have much of a chance to hear or practice Arabic where I live. My stint in North Africa was no help at all, I ended up improving my French instead. A lot of Cairene words seem to have changed meaning ( e.g. "bee'a", at my time it meant environment, not "baladi"). The other day I read some comments on a heated debate in another arabic blog & discovered that I couldn't understand a lot of new words, especially the exchanged insults!!
Anyway, kudos for you both on your excellent blogs. I love reading them & comparing how life changed since the Hyksos era to the present ;o)

Forsoothsayer said...

thank you!
bee2a does come from environment - when someone is said to be bee2a, they come from a "bee2a watya".

Our Man In Morocco said...

Excellent roasting, although I point to this as Exhibit A as to why I would never willingly subject my own creative work to your hilariously vicious scrutiny.