First of all, let me get this out of my system: I hated, hated “Zay El Naharda (Just like Today), the latest Eid release that, apparently, everyone seems to love.
A thriller-cum-relationship drama-cum-trite philosophical meditation on fate and choice, the film is quickly growing into a cult favorite a week after its official commercial release.
I can understand the appeal behind the film. A subject matter barely explored in Egyptian films, atypical visual texture and slightly innovative plot devices, “Today, on paper at least, should’ve been the fruitful commutation of Egyptian cinema’s recent failed endeavors in crafting a bonafide thriller.
Except it really isn’t; instead, what you get is a mishmash of recycled ideas conceived via an inane visual context copied from popular American cult film. Oh, and it has Ahmed El Fishawy in it.
Basma plays Mai, a manager of some department in a translation center who swiftly falls in love with a young man named Ayman (Nabil Essa). The events that lead to their relationship are almost entirely governed by coincidence and fate. The two get engaged, but things don’t go as well as planned.
Mai’s brother Mohammed (Asser Yassin) is a former whiz kid and a current drug addict who persistently abuse his sister and mother (Maha Abou Ouf) for cash. In one of their numerous heated arguments, Ayman decides to intercept Mohamed’s harassment, leading to a foot chase that ends with his death.
After a considerable period of grief, Mai goes back to her normal life. One evening, her car crashes into Yasser’s (El Fishawy), an aspiring actor.
The skeptic, reluctant Mai falls for Yasser, embarking on another relationship also derived by destiny. She soon realizes the eerie similarities between the circumstances surrounding both relationships and attempts to stop destiny from claiming another victim.
The intricate, near paranormal means by which destiny employs to shape the lives of individuals and how the concept of free will fits in its scheme has been previously tackled in film, most famously by legendary Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski in “The Double Life of Veronique and most famously in “Red, the final part of his “Three Colors trilogy.
Nearly every subsequent film exploring those themes was influenced by “Red, including Tom Tykwer’s zany “Run Lola Run, the 1998 gigantic blockbuster that almost single-handedly resurrected the German film industry.
Stylistically, the two films were poles apart. “Red was subdued, contemplative and deeply engrossing. “Lola was vigorous, fast and flashy; a rapid visual rush of blood to the head. “Red was obviously the superior film, “Lola proved to be the more influential and the most imitated.
Hollywood took notice, dumping down both Kieslowski and Tykwer’s themes into commercial formulas with the “Final Destination franchise and the other gazillion spin-offs. Meanwhile, Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu borrowed Kieslowski’s template for his art-house smash “Amores Perros.
Iñárritu was a direct influence on indie Egyptian filmmaker Ibrahim El Batout, whose two full-length features “Ithaki and “Ein Shams employed fate as a secondary catalyst to explore the lives of his characters.
Each one of these aforementioned film, including “Final Destination, was visually distinctive while their treatment of Kieslowski’s universal themes managed to present a different take on the subject.
“Today is a completely different story though. Here’s a film that takes one long gulp and says absolutely nothing new about a theme viable for countless interpretations.
The most striking aspect of “Today is how self-intelligent it believes it is.
Every major revelation in the film is thudded by a moment of silence, a dramatic gesture or a spooky explanation that screams “look how awesome this is.
All characters are two-dimensional archetypes that function as rigid plot tools. No full background details about Mohamed and his girlfriend Hala (Arwa) – the sole saving grace of the film – are provided, leaving the viewers to idly follow the aftermath of an incomplete story with no beginning.
Writer/director/editor Amr Salama’s story is exceedingly shallow and hollow. As a thriller, “Today is quite predictable and banal with a cast of largely non-empathetic characters.
Visually, “Today looks like an amateurish American Sundance entry directed by an MTV school alumnus. The saturated color scheme of the film, coupled with several scenes shot by handheld cameras are bluntly plagiarized from the likes of Tony Scott, Martin Scorsese (a laughably short tracking shot reminiscent of the casino scene in “Goodfellas ) and Darren Aronofsky, whose “Requiem for a Dream is prominently displayed in one scene.
Not only does such style seem dated now (Aronofsky himself has adopted a restrained approach for his new film “The Wrestler ); Salama’s direction feels forced and inorganic. “Today looks and feels unabashedly American, with no distinguishing texture or fresh vision. Even the soundtrack is mystifyingly hackneyed. Obviously, Salama’s musical knowledge is restricted to forgotten Bon Jovi records and Pink Floyd whose stoner classic “Comfortably Numb is used, once again, in the same exact context dozen others films have extensively exploited in the past 30 years.
In the acting department, Asser Yassin proves yet again to be the best thing in another mediocre/bad work. Ferocious yet gentle, cruel yet vulnerable, Mohamed is kaleidoscope of contrasting personalities. Yassin’s performance is mostly intense and gripping, but not showy or distracting and he brilliantly eschews the junkie chestnuts. Arwa is also quite formidable in her brief role; natural, tragic and powerless.
And then there’s Ahmed El Fishway. I honestly have nothing against El Feshawy, and I did like him in the ill-fated “45 Days and his comedic turn in last spring’s “Waraket Shafra. None of other previous works could redeem his tremendously exasperating performance in “Today. Sporting a Darth Vader-like growl, Yasser is beehive of clichés, sentimental, incredibly dull and occasionally cocky. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder how come a girl like Mai could fall in love with a guy like Yasser. El Fishawy’s performance is tasteless and monotonous, easily one of the worst screen performances I’ve seen of late.
“Just like Today is a textbook example of everything that’s wrong with Egyptian teen cinema. It’s an inconsequential film with no personality, completely submerged under American influences. Apart from the Mohamed/Hala storyline, there’s hardly any genuine moment in the main plotline.
Following the film’s special screening, a friend of mine said that the film is “not bad when compared to similar other Egyptian films.
I was somehow shocked; has the bar been set so low for Egyptian films?
Are we working in total isolation from the world? Comparisons aside, the film is bad, lacking the tension, tricks or developed characters to create a worthy entertainment or the depth, mindset and singular vision to produce a work of philosophical merit. “Today is a middle-of-the-road film, satisfied with the presumed novelty of its premise while thoroughly lacking the skill and ambition to create a truly durable drama.