In the most memorable scene of Spike Jonze’s 2002 “Adaptation, Nicolas Cage’s struggling scriptwriter tells famous writing coach Robert McKee (Brian Cox) that “nothing happens in the world.
“Nothing happens in the world? he asks. “Are you out of your mind?
People are murdered every day. There’s genocide, war, corruption. Every day, somewhere in the world, somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else. Every day, someone, somewhere makes a conscious decision to destroy someone else. People find love, people lose it. If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know crap about life. And why are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie?
His tirade came to mind while I watched the latest and over-hyped Egyptian independent feature “Youm Taweel Khales (A Very Long Day) last Tuesday at the Cairo Opera House.
For the past three months, a barrage of Egyptian indies has been screened during a small number of film festivals around the country. By mid-April, the majority of this year’s independent features and shorts will have been shown to the public. The most high-profile selection of the bunch usually spends the rest of the year fighting for more slots in the year’s remaining festivals. So far, only three or four films out of the nearly 80 I’ve seen left a memorable impression.
The main factor behind their failure is that the following essentials are not taken into consideration when judging these films, namely quality of production, maturity of vision, experience and budget. Hardly any of them present anything fresh or substantial. A sense of conceit and false artistry crushes what little promise is shown at the beginning of some of these films.
The larger part of this year’s indie crop share two themes: sexual frustration and drug/alcohol abuse. In fact, the films are similar variations on these two concepts, which, despite their sizeable number, are astonishingly devoid of any insight, depth or significance.
“Long Day is no exception. Its failure, however, is even more disappointing because it boasts a larger budget – provided by a small new independent production company – a film crew and the presence of Amr Abd El Galeel, whose a rising star in mainstream cinema.
The 70-mintue film revolves around Ayman (Hamdy El Tonsi), a young man who belongs to the marginalized classes of Alexandria. Ayman spends most evenings smoking hash with his friends (Abd El Galeel, Mohamed El Tayea and Mahmoud Imam) and wallowing in pity over the stern social and economic circumstances that pushed them farther to the fringe of society.
The only salvation that can put an end to Ayman’s fruitless existence is immigrating to another country. Even though his immigration application has been rejected three times, he’s convinced that the one thing standing between him and his dream is his relationship with his girlfriend Farah (Raghda Ayoub).
Farah, on the other hand, is the archetypical Egyptian girl created by the misogynistic mind of Egyptian male filmmakers: She is a liberal, playful and sexually forthright young woman. Her scantily-clad best friend Dina (Dana) and sister Gigi (Nahed Aboul Magd) give their bodies away to the highest bidder.
Farah is a romantic at heart. Her deep-seated and genuine love for Ayman is her Achilles heel, preventing her from following her friend and sister’s ‘practical’ path.
Ayman discovers that Farah is cheating on him with – surprise, surprise – a rich young man. Angry and confused, he invites Farah for one last rendezvous that represents an act of vengeance as well as his last chance to break all ties with the one thing that’s tying him down to his hometown.
Throughout the long history of film, the rise of realism in movies has always been associated with periods of social and political upheaval. The corruption and oppression of Nasser’s regime, the 1967 defeat, repercussions of Sadat’s open door policy and the current economic turmoil pave the way for movies that record the brazen reality of the nation and function as a therapeutic medium for the public.
The current wave of Egyptian indies could be classified as such on the surface, but strange enough, few have been able to capture that sense of ire and urgency of their predecessors.
Not only do the likes of “Long Day lack passion and determination, but, most alarmingly, most of these filmmakers are simply not good storytellers.
Unsurprisingly, director Hazem Metwally’s film is dialogue-driven. His characters spend half the time whining about their lives, their bleak futures and their disappointments. The film contains no real dramatic events and several scenes, especially the excruciating confessional monologues, overstay their welcome.
There’s not a hint of subtlety à la Ramin Bahrani’s recent “Chop Shop, for example. Perhaps that’s why Metwally’s characters eventually appear self-indulgent, unsympathetic and exasperating.
Sex is on the minds of the majority of the film’s characters; from the middle-aged coffee shop customers to Farah’s “experienced sister who gives her a crash course in effective techniques of seducing men.
Although I don’t mind foul language or realistic crudeness in drama, there’s something repulsive and off-putting about “Long Day. Perhaps it’s the dialogue that’s essentially composed of catchwords and pedantic street lingo. Or perhaps it’s Metwally’s reluctance to explore the various other factors that truly influence the lives of these characters.
This brings me back to the “Adaptation speech and the question: “Why are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? When the indie wave emerged a few years back, most critics hailed it as the way to the future, lauding the rebelliousness, inventiveness and necessity of these small, hidden gems. Now, and like American underground films, indie films have reached a state of lull. They have become formulaic, which makes new offerings like “Long Day – with its big premiere and the ubiquitous TV cameras spotted on the unknown, overdressed cast of the film – just another hollow genre piece and, quite frankly, a waste of time.
The mindset of the emerging Egyptian amateur filmmakers is no different than Cage’s narrow worldview of “Adaptation. In a country where thousands of stories and tragedies happen every single day, these filmmakers seem to be incapable of getting past the hackneyed, tired stories of sex-starved junkies.
Despite the candid sex references and naïve social critique, “A Very Long Day is a tame film blind to the actual reality of the country in which they are set.