As much I dislike Ismailia Rayeh Gay – the 1997 blockbuster starring Mohamed Heneidi – you’ve got to hand it to it, the movie was the reason Egyptian cinema came back to life.
The boost Ismailia gave the Egyptian cinema industry required more millions to re-erect a solid foundation; and with those preconditions came a salvo of comedies that managed to outstrip the film’s success by miles.
The staggering amount of cash these films raked gave way to other genres and filmmakers to surface. Every major drama from Sahar El Layali, (Sleepless Nights) to the Yacoubian Building wouldn t have existed had Ismailia and the other comedies failed at the box office.
Nowadays, Egypt is classified as one of the few countries where revenues of domestic films outdo those of Hollywood ones and the technical aspect of contemporary cinema has never been better.
By that time though, the last of the great filmmakers, such as Dawood Abdel Sayed and Khairy Bishara, found themselves watching the revolution from afar. A slew of young filmmakers were given the helm to revamp Egypt s most popular entertainment. This fresh vision saw new directors trying to create innovative work. Egyptian cinema was obliged to continue the reconstruction process.
Agamista, Tarek Abdel Moaty’s feature debut, is another film that tries to tell a different story with actual depth, without sacrificing the commercial edge. Sadly, it ended up recreating the inherited flaws of past works.
The film centers on Ezz (Khaled Abol Naga), a wannabe writer from a well-to-do family, who loses his one true love (Reham Abdel Ghafour) after he nearly kills a man in bar-brawl. Ezz feels he s never been in control of his own life. He knows his goal yet doesn t seem to identify the means by which to reach it. Years later, he marries Abeer (May Ezz El Din), a young, beautiful woman he can t bring himself to love. After another domestic argument, Ezz leaves for his Agami beach house in Alexandria for some peace of mind.
When he gets there, he meets Shaghlouf (Sherif Ramzy), a young swindler who owes his former butcher employer LE 150; a sum of money Shaghlouf deliberately stole from him. Shaghlouf finds in the rich, naïve-looking man a perfect prey. After several rowdy episodes between the two, Ezz and Shaghlouf gradually form a close bond as the former slowly becomes drawn to the world of the latter and begins to assemble the material for his first novel based on Shaghlouf and his friends.
Everything about Agamista looked promising; a story about male friendship, a great natural setting and a cast headed by the popular Abol Naga. Ye the film falls into the historical trap to being too didactic.
The film is based primarily on the relationship that develops between two men with nothing in common on the surface, but deep inside craving for the same goals. The interesting part of the story is not these objectives or the mistakes that have led both men astray; it s how this bond develops, the profound, honest conversations between them and the womanless universe both men come to occupy.
But Abdel Moaty misses the mark when he intersperses heavy dramatic moments with unnecessary comic relief that doesn t fit at all with the tone of these scenes. The male bonding between the lead actors was also contrived, featuring an overabundance of music that tries to push the director s sentimentality down the audiences throat.
Most repulsive of all is the message of the movie. Abdel Moaty lays his message clear and upfront: Drugs damages your life and you can t be truthfully in charge of your existance unless you let go off this destructive habit. By the end of the movie, the message turns into the quintessential Egyptian movie sermons reminiscent of Hussien Sikdy films of the 40s.
By the time the film reached its predictable ending, any past interest in the characters and their destiny was lost. In fact, I was just glad it ended after enduring the directness of Abdel Moaty s message and the exceedingly formulaic outcome.
I had high expectations for Agamista and I was disappointed, despite some scenes in the film that are truly remarkable and heartfelt.
Unlike most emerging filmmakers, Abdel Moaty is unpretentious and his film has a few saving graces, like the car chase and Sherif Ramzy’s subtle, and I must admit, best performance to date. Too bad the half-baked script started with a bang of potential and ended with a whimper of conventionality.