As soon as you think things could not get worse, they do. After enduring three days of primarily so-so films in the festival, “Ala El Hawa (On Air), the second Egyptian film screening in the main international competition, managed to reach a new low.
“On Air is director Ihab Lamey’s follow-up to the pitiful relationship drama “Elakat Khasa (Private Relationships) released this past summer. His other films include “Men Nazret Ain (By a Glimpse of an Eye) and “Kan Youm Hobak (That Was the Day of Your Love).
Apart from few good reviews for “Nazret Ain, none of Lamey’s other films registered well with critics or audiences. With “On Air, Lamey, amazingly outdid himself by creating not only his worst film to date, but one of the most dreadful entries in the competition so far.
“On Air revolves around four contestants competing in a Big Brother-like reality show. The rules are quite simple: Contenders must remain silent for an entire month. The winner is the one who could stay silent the longer.
All four characters come from different social backgrounds. One is a womanizing toktok driver married to a bully wife. Apart from his wife, no one’s aware that his mother was formerly a prostitute.
Another character is a heartthrob waiter who is in love with his colleague. After getting fired, the father of his beloved rejects their union and advises him to find an old, rich lady to marry.
The third contestant is a lovelorn, middle-class spinster who lost her parents in a car accident some years ago. She’s been engaged 10 times.
The last constant is Wafiya, a voluptuous, playful young woman who happens to be the daughter of a poor Maadi porter. She strongly believes that because of her beauty, she should be leading a much more respectable life than the one she’s enduring. She’s been involved in a doomed relationship with the son of one of the building’s residents.
The premise of the film sounded original, hinting at the difficult genre of black comedy. What emerged as the true black comedy was the viewers’ misfortune to have watched it.
The growing fad of reality shows has been sweeping across the Arab world, and what an excellent film “On Air could have been had it examined the true implications of these programs or the reason behind their popularity.
Instead, the film turns out to be a prime example of hideous, incompetent filmmaking, failing to fully develop a single idea.
Every scene is laden with smugness and fake emotions. Characters are unsympathetic and unreal. Their conflicts are trivial; a shallow presentation of the actual problems facing the real characters they’re prototyping.
In a press conference, Lamey claimed the reason why some audience members didn’t like his film is because they’ve simply grown accustomed to the dialogue-driven Egyptian cinema, which champions the spoken word over pictures.
Yet, what’s astonishing about a film where none of the leading characters speak is that it’s rarely silent. Excessive commentary and inconsequential dialogues between the program’s curator and other characters fill every scene.
The film also offers a political subtext presented through the character of the station manager. His main objective behind the program is to confirm the idea that silence/conformity is the mean to win and succeed. As with every other element in the film, this subtext is depicted blatantly.
Lamey’s film is filled with every cliché in the book; from the impulses that drive the characters to the awfully obvious, over-romantic love songs forced after every nauseatingly whimsical scene.
There’s hardly a well-composed scene in the film.”On Air is a dumb, dumb movie with a self-important message that’s been brilliantly tackled before in films such as “The Truman Show or “Series 7: The Contenders.
There is still one thought that refuses to leave in peace: How did the festival’s viewing committee allow this piece of hogwash participate in the main competition?