Asef Ala El-Ezaag (Sorry for the Disturbance), Ahmed Helmy’s follow-up to last year’s blockbuster comedy “Keda Reda, is not a comedy. In fact, it is abundant with heartbreaking moments not typically seen in films of the same genre.
Not only have most viewers been misled by the old-fashioned tone of the trailer, the film’s early premise gives the false impression of a standard romantic comedy.
“Disturbance is, first and foremost, a delicate story of loneliness, grief and new age paranoia, boasting one of Helmy’s most impressive screen performances.
Helmy plays Hassan Salah Eldin, a young aviation engineer from an upper middle-class family. His mother, played by Dalal Abdel Aziz, is the typical Egyptian matriarch: Caring, affectionate, excessively controlling and obsessed with the tiniest of details.
His father, played by Mahmoud Hemieda, is a successful pilot. Hassan’s father is his rock, the one person on earth who truly understands his estrangement and sense of detachment.
The film opens with Hassan writing his 100th letter to the president. Hassan feels discriminated against, that the entire country is conspiring to humiliate him and sabotage his dreams. He often imagines that everyone, from the waiter in his favorite coffee shop to flag vendors, deliberately insult him.
Hassan has no friends and no life outside work. He doesn’t get along with his peers and, at one point, his boss suspends him for disobeying orders to take a vacation. His isolation and fear are augmented by his mother’s efforts to curb any wild endeavors he attempts to undertake.
His luck finally begins to change when he meets Farida (Menna Shalaby), a free-spirited wedding planner Hassan has been fancying from afar. After overhearing that a certain interior designer has stolen LE 15, 000 from her, he pretends to be his friend, promising to retrieve her money. Using this alibi, he gradually gets to know her.
Farida persuades him to go after every dream he let go of in the past. He adopts a new fashion style, buys a motorbike and makes acquaintances with strangers in a local coffee shop.
His paranoia doesn’t diminish, however, until he starts confusing reality with illusion.
The massive success of “Keda Reda placed Helmy at the forefront of Egyptian comedy, right behind Adel Imam. The enthusiasm preceding “Disturbance was completely justified. “Keda Reda was the funniest, most original Egyptian comedy since “El Nazer and “Film Thakafi in 2000.
His quick rise to stardom began with a few remarkable supporting roles, most notably in “El Nazer and “El-Sellem W El-Te’ban (Snakes and Ladders). His first starring roles initially felt like a quick cash-in on his growing popularity. It wasn’t until 2006’s “Zarf Tarek when Helmy proved to be an outstanding lead comedian.
His distinctive, buoyant and amiable comedic persona was firmly established in two subsequent films that succeeded in pairing Helmy’s natural wit with situational comedies that functioned as a throwback to the classics of Fouad El-Mohandes.
If “Keda Reda heralded a new daring direction for Helmy, “Disturbance marks a major departure from the happy-go-lucky ambiance of his previous works.
Hassan is a young man with a lot of potential that’s been completely wasted.
Like most young Egyptian men, his ambitions are put down by a variety of factors: authority, apathy and a general atmosphere of despondency. He hardly trusts anyone and constantly feels both oppressed and exploited.
In one of the most subtle and revealing scenes of the film, Hassan approaches a group of young men, playing dominos in a local coffee shop.
None of the four men know each other, and they don’t seem eager to get acquainted. Hassan is merely a small part of the establishment, a thin-skinned man who feels increasingly powerless against the hollowness of present society.
Yet, there’s a deep, hidden sadness that Hassan fails to confront, and it is responsible for a great source of pain beyond the justifications he gives to Farida. Indeed, Hassan’s secret is unveiled via a jarring twist that caught me off guard.
Things slightly go off track afterwards though. Scriptwriter Ahmed Bahgat Amar (“Andaleeb El Dokki ) ends his film too neatly with the customary happy ending that feels rushed and unconvincing.
A hopeful resolution was definitely required for a story filled with a fair share of tragedy. Yet, the way loose ends are tied doesn’t allow the audience the space to enjoy their hero’s ultimate triumph. For a story constructed mostly on emotional realism, the ending feels too artificial.
Hassan is by far Helmy’s most complex role. Helmy effortlessly juggles between quiet, unpretentious comedy and strong drama. The last 20 minutes of the film feature his finest acting to date. Instead of coming off as a self-indulgent whiner, Helmy renders Hassan a highly empathetic character easy to root for.
That’s why his scenes with Farida are so enjoyable. Shalaby essentially plays the same cutesy freewheeler of her several previous films. Director Khaled Marei (“Taymour & Shafika ) doesn’t attempt to evolve her character; instead, he contrasts her directness with the haplessness and reserve of Helmy’s character, producing scenes of undeniable charm despite their formalism.
Both Hemeida and Abdel Aziz stand out with natural performances that are remarkably realistic. Abdel Aziz perfectly captures the ticks and habits of average Egyptian mothers, who imposing despite their good intentions.
Hemeida is a joy to watch. He slips easily under the skin of Hassan’s loving father, delivering a spontaneous, relaxed performance that acts mostly as the chief source of dramatic relief.
“Asef Ala El-Ezaag is easily the most ambitious mainstream release of the summer. Those expecting another broad comedy à la “Keda Reda will be sorely disappointed, and the film hardly features any laugh-out-loud gags.
Yet, and despite the unforgivable blunders of the third act, the film brims with warmth and understated sadness few stars have dared to approach in a season governed by overblown entertainment.