It wouldn’t be an overstatement to describe the reaction that greeted Saad Hindawy’s much-awaited sophomore effort “The Seventh Heaven as ecstatic. Hindawy’s film was highly praised by a group of critics who were treated to a private screening a few weeks ago, leading film analysts to regard it as a strong competitor for the Golden Pyramid award.The end-result screened last Wednesday was far less compelling than what’s been reported. “The Seventh Heaven is a satisfactory, harmless film, but nothing more.
Laila Elwi stars as a lonely woman called Hanan who becomes strongly infatuated with a tanoura dancer named Bakr (Farouk El Fishawy) for reasons that are not clear at first.
Bakr is a divorced man with one son (Sherif Ramzy) who works in construction and aspires to be a dancer like his father. Hanan, on the other hand, is tormented by a hidden past. In attempt to escape the things that haunt her, she spends the majority of her mornings applying for immigration in different embassies.
Hanan and Bakr fall in love and as they start confessing their perturbing secrets, they finally reach the much-coveted state of redemption.
The film starts with a few verses of Persian poet Jalal Ed-Din Al Rumi that set the air of the spiritual Sufism that numerous images of the picture are infused with.
In the follow-up to the blundered “Halet Hob (Love State), Hindawy exhibits a knack of conjuring distinctive, atheistic portraits concerned primarily with the mystic relationship between a man and his surroundings.
Furthermore, the young filmmaker has an eye for capturing the smallest details of the average Egyptian alleyways, the month of Ramdan and even the nightmarish traffic.
Regardless of its numerous flaws, “Heaven is arguably the most beautifully shot film of the year.
Veteran cinematographer Ramses Marzouk paints Hindawy’s canvases with mesmerizing colors. The several images capturing sunlight from the top of the citadel are probably the one truly heavenly aspect of the film.
The outline of scriptwriter Zienab Aziz’s story is quite interesting, albeit unoriginal. The film is essentially a story about a man and woman seeking redemption. But it’s the secondary characters and other minor plot elements that intrigue.
Aziz’s script is the first to go behind the scenes of the fascinating world of tanura dancers and bring these mostly anonymous characters to the forefront.
Bakr’s son embodies the state of loss and search for higher meaning many young men experience when faced with the suffocating ordinariness of it all.
His yearning for something beyond the prevailing materialism is contrasted against his girlfriend’s greed for wealth and a different life in Dubai, the consumerist capital of the Arab world.
Aziz’s infrequent enlightening streaks and Hindawy’s captivating images are drowned with pretentious acting, the director’s urge to clarify every element of the story and the customary, unfitting happy ending.
In order to appeal to the largest amount of potential viewers, every single action, reaction, message and naive symbol is blatant.
That probably justifies Elwi’s Dr Evil-like squirms and gazes that annihilate what could have been a dazzling performance. El Fishawy is no different, spoiling nearly all his scenes by failing to react appropriately without exaggeration.
In fact, the film only contains a few moments where the two leads appear spontaneous.
The “big secret Elwi is hiding is actually hinted at, and revealed, near the beginning of the film. The explanations her character offers later on are lifted directly from the average Egyptian soap opera.
Hindawy leaves no room for contemplation or reflection. Everything is explained in detail, every facial expression conveys the feelings of its character in a thoroughly blunt manner. But even these shortcomings could have been forgiven had Hindawy opted for another ending.
The state of catharsis Hindawy hoped to trigger hardly materializes. Instead, the ending is forced; too satisfactory for its own good.
“The Seventh Heaven is another demonstration that combining crowd-pleasing stories with artistry is a formula that is still deluding Egyptian films.