They must think we’re morons; that’s one explanation. Or perhaps we actually are morons. Or worse, accomplices to a crime.
What other reason is there to explain why last week, a motley collection of journalists and unlucky individuals not being paid to be there found themselves in a cinema watching a film called “Bahr El Negoom (Sea of Stars), which was not a film but, in fact, a very long advert for Pepsi peppered with brief scenes involving Haifa Wahbe and Wael Kfoury and three other emissaries sent to earth by Pepsi. The whole shebang stank of money, foreign locations and high production values. But it is still not a film. Pepsi calls it an “initiative. A Pepsi representative is quoted on a website as saying that the aim of the project is “to preserve the upbeat and creative image of Pepsi while connecting directly to our audience with the superstars they enjoy and admire in the Middle East. Makes sense, I suppose, this re-labelling, in an age when despots are partners in peace, and increasing poverty can mean progress in the context of long term growth.
“Sea of Stars flimsy plot revolves around Youssef (Karim Mahmoud Abdel Aziz), the teenage son of a restaurant owner threatened with foreclosure by the bank.
Youssef’s father is given a month to raise funds to pay back the loan, an impossible feat given the sluggish state of business in the unnamed, unidentifiable beach resort in which the restaurant is located.
Youssef decides to resurrect the seaside music festival his now senile grandfather (Lotfy Labib) created years ago, in order to raise the funds his father needs to save the restaurant.
He and a bunch of his beautiful young friends then set off on a tour of a country which looks like Lebanon but where everyone speaks broken Egyptian colloquial Arabic hoping to locate and persuade Kfoury and friends to perform in the festival.
Thus far, the plot is asinine and dull but ultimately inoffensive: just another disposable offering for the summer. It is Pepsi’s involvement which sets “Sea of Stars apart and which makes it so sinister.
To say that Pepsi sponsored the film is a half-truth, an understatement; a bit like suggesting that Syria has been lightly involved in Lebanese internal affairs for the past 20 years.
Pepsi is the raison d’etre of “Sea of Stars. The film is constructed around it – which isn’t surprising given that adverts, sorry, “initiatives – tend to be based around the products they are trying to force upon us.
Pepsi appears constantly, in the form of cans, vending machines, mineral water and outright corporate sponsorship for Youssef’s music festival.
It is no exaggeration to say that a Pepsi product lurks in virtually every scene, is clumsily shoehorned into almost every moment of “Sea of Stars, right up until the denouement when Youssef’s music festival sees the light of day – with the help of Pepsi sponsorship – and a giant Pepsi logo appears on stage behind the five ‘stars’ as they perform their awful song.
“Sea of Stars’ audience are not so much alienated by the anonymous characters before them, as ignored. Perhaps this is the second most annoying aspect of the film.
It is virtually impossible to feel empathy with these people without knowing who they are – or at least where they are – and without comprehending what message we are meant to take after spending an hour and a half in their company.
But then perhaps a plot, a message, and audience enjoyment are all surplus to requirement.
The only discernible message I took away from the film – apart from the injunction to buy Pepsi – was that an enterprising and creative spirit will overcome any obstacles, thanks to the opportunities afforded by a free market economy and the helping hand of big business. A Pepsi representative tells Youssef in one scene that the company will sponsor the festival and we know everyone will live happily ever after.
I am positive that the film’s message will serve as a source of inspiration for Egypt’s millions of young people who are also compelled by economic circumstances to have their own adventures involving the sea.
“Sea of Stars is a film which lacks any integrity whatsoever. It is a get-rich quick scheme which exploits the cult of celebrity for Pepsi’s own ends and in the process, demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the medium it reduces to an advertising hoarding.
Worse still, it is an indictment of a culture which has lost its way, a society where fair to middling artists such as Wahbe and friends are able to attain the status of icons and consumerism has replaced creativity.