"Halim" brings together two iconic legends

Sarah El Sirgany
7 Min Read

Ahmed Zaki and Abdel Halim Hafez share the silver screen

HalimDirector: Sherif ArafaWriter: Mahfouz Abdel RahmanActors: Ahmed Zaki, Haytham Ahmed Zaki, Sulaf Fawakhergi, Mona Zaki and Ezzat Abu Ouf

CAIRO: As the opening credits roll, the shaky camera follows late actor Ahmed Zaki in his Abdel Halim Hafez persona while he performs on stage. Scenes of other actors talking about Hafez – or Halim, as the public refers to him – keep interrupting the stage scene. Trying to hold it together, Zaki eventually falls on stage. He is moved to the hospital as the words of Halim’s song “Resala Taht El Maa (Message Under Water) flows. “I’m drowning, drowning, drowning, echoes the song.

A few minutes elapse of the much-anticipated film “Halim, yet I cannot determine whether it will take the form of a documentary about Hafez’s life acted out by contemporary actors, or a screen drama based on Hafez’ life story. The camera, which seems handheld, and the interjected interviews suggest a documentary, a still-unfamiliar concept to local mainstream cinema.

The next scene, finally, makes it clear; it is a combination of both drama and documentary.

The film cuts to a hospital scene, where title character Halim is lying on his bed. His colleagues, friends and family stand in the hallway, with apparent expressions of concern. After they check up on him and leave, he reaches for the radio, tunes it to a station airing an interview he once made. He listens, as he lies in bed, wavering in and out of consciousness.

The now-stable camera moves to the radio station, where Halim answers questions about his life, starting from his childhood and highlighting the important moments along the way. As he talks, the screen shows excerpts from his life.

The interviewer goes on to ask Halim and some of his colleagues about certain decisions, turning points and how he felt at certain times. With the interview guiding the plot of the film, chronological order subsides. In a non-linear fashion, the film covers Halim’s life in chapters, each discussing a different theme in his songs and the corresponding part of his life – nationalism, romance and struggle for fame, among others.

By this method the film interweaves the documentary style with drama. The method is ambitious and suitable for an epic film, but its application is a bit tricky. In a number of scenes, some actors appear lost between the two styles.

As for the acting, in some instances they seem confined by their portrayal of real life characters, focusing on imitating their moves and their looks, whereas at other instances, they deliver heartfelt performances that are reminders of their talent while maintaining the spirit of the real life character alive.

Ezzat Abu Ouf is a perfect example. Seeing him playing Mohamed Abdel Wahab was like seeing the iconic singer and composer come to life. But at the same time, Abu Ouf overdid Abdel Wahab’s lisp, transforming it from adorable to bothersome and detracting from the charm and charisma that were the singer s legacies.

But in Abu Ouf’s and the cast’s defense, they were playing iconic characters, some dead and some still alive, that people have grown to love and respect. These characters, led by Halim, have touched many lives and played pivotal roles in this country’s history. Viewers could strongly relate to the events that provided the backdrop of the story.

This bond between the real life icons and events on the one side, and the viewers on the other is the film’s strongest attraction. But eager, over enthusiastic viewers, like myself, could be very critical if the icons they loved are not perfectly portrayed in spirit and in appearance.

It is a tricky challenge to replicate the essence of the characters’, with physical resemblance and acting skills perfectly. And, in over two hours of film, viewers will find most of the events familiar.

Ahmed Zaki, however, rose to the challenge. He captured Halim’s movements, appearance and spirit and expertly paraded them with his talents as an actor. The result is an enthralling performance where Halim’s and Zaki’s personas intermingle.

Taking into consideration the similarities between Halim’s and Zaki’s real lives, sometimes the film seemed like a documentary of both of their lives; it was brilliantly captivating.

It would be unfair to compare Zaki’s performance to his son’s. Halim is Haitham Zaki’s screen debut; he was recruited to play the young Halim after his father passed away before filming came to an end. Thus, the discrepancy in experience makes it an unfair comparison but since both play the same character in the same film, the comparison is inevitable.

Haitham shows signs of a promising actor, but throughout most of his scenes he was tapped between his attempts to imitate Halim and his father’s performance of the same character. He overdid many of Halim’s body movements to the point of artificiality. But when he let go of the urge to imitate, his unpolished talents surfaced and the result was satisfying.

But regardless of the uneven flow, the film is bound to be a classic and a must-see. It is Ahmed Zaki fulfilling his dream of portraying Halim on screen. Who could resist watching a legend playing another legend?

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