Khaled Youssef’s “Hena Maysara (In Time) is the film which “Heya Fawda (Is it Chaos?) tried to be.
Both films are set in impoverished areas of Cairo, examine the consequences of corruption and abuse of power (albeit more obliquely in “Maysara ), and are penned by scriptwriter Nasser Abdel Rahman.
Youssef also co-directed “Heya Fawda.
“Fawda attempted to present a microcosm of Egyptian society in the form of the Cairene district which corrupt officer Khaled Saleh has turned into his personal fiefdom. While Saleh’s performance was excellent, the film was unbalanced by a hackneyed and heavy romantic sub-plot, which jarred with its clumsy attempts to portray the chaos that emerges in the absence of the rule of law.
This, combined with the allegorical – and naïve – good-triumphs-over-evil ending, made for a film which prodded at some fascinating themes without ever getting to their essence.
“Hena Maysara paints a nightmarish, and completely credible, picture of Egypt. Set in an impoverished, informal housing area, the film revolves around Adel, a mechanic who struggles to support his mother and numerous nieces and nephews left behind by absent siblings.
Adel (Amro Saad) meets young Nahed (Somaya El-Khashab), who has fled abuse at the hands of her stepfather in Banha. In the short time they are together, Nahed becomes pregnant. Adel, who is already struggling to make ends meet, rejects the child and the two go their separate ways. The rest of the film follows the separate and mostly tormented lives of Nahed, Adel and their son, Ayman.
There is nothing particularly original about either Maysara’s characters (impoverished young men, mothers forced by circumstance to seek work abroad), or its themes (poverty, violence and abuse). What sets this film apart is the way it humanizes its protagonists, ensuring that they are not reduced to clichéd stereotypes.
Adel, for example, is a complex, troubled character who is steadily hardened by the loss of his child, the daily grind of poverty, and the violence closing in on him.
In a particularly moving scene, he rips his mother’s bracelets from her wrists in order to pay off his debt to the neighborhood thugs, but – stricken with remorse and a guilty conscience – he returns the gold to his mother.
The film is filled with such moral conflicts. Alone and without options, Nahed soon finds herself being sucked into a murky world which she tries, but fails, to resist.
While “Maysara is almost unremittingly bleak, the humor with which its heroes contend with their circumstances breaks up the misery. Amr Abdel Galil in particular, who plays Adel’s bumbling but comic neighbor Fathy, is outstanding in the role.
Problems with the film’s plot were twofold: timing – great swathes of years elapse in a single frame before the pace slows down dramatically and disconcertingly – and its political Islam theme. There was something slightly contrived about the underground Islamist terrorist cell which suddenly appears, particularly that it is led by an innocuous-seeming, middle-aged taxi driver (played by Ahmed Bedeir).
The set was fantastic, with the exception of the strangely clinical and rather bizarre torture scenes which looked like they were filmed in a science laboratory. Like “Fawda, these scenes suffered from credibility issues and seemed to be almost deliberately comical at times.
Almost everyone I have spoken to who has seen “Hena Maysara says that they left the cinema feeling extremely troubled and saddened by it. This is a highly enjoyable film, but viewing it is something of a traumatic experience: The brutality, suffering, and hopelessness which it presents are an uncomfortably real reflection of a society at war with itself.