Kobolat Masrooka (Stolen Kisses), the latest teen drama from director Khaled El Hagar, arrives in theaters with a buzz surrounding the “steamy love scenes and the 105 kisses featured in the film, surpassing the longstanding record holder “Abi Fouk El Shagara (My Father On Top of the Tree) starring Abdel Halim Hafez and Nadia Lotfi.
After winning the best acting prize for its ensemble of eight at the Alexandria International Film Festival last August, watching the film seemed like a win-win situation: If it turned out to be bad, the “free sex various local publications said the film generously offered should make for a good consolation.
Well, religious conservatives and film enthusiasts alike shouldn’t fret; “Stolen Kisses is neither an artistic triumph nor a sex fest. At best, “Kisses is an average television movie with a few earnest moments submerged under oceans of clichés, tired plotlines and tepid vision.
“Kisses charts the struggles of three lower-middle class couples against the ubiquitous obstacles faced by the Egyptian youth; from unemployment and social injustice to dysfunctional familial relationships and urfi marriage. These are topics dozens of films, television serials and novels have milked to death for over a decade now.
Scriptwriter Ahmed Saleh managed to pull a feat few believed any sensible writer could accomplish: recreating a formulaic 40s Egyptian melodrama with the same characters and a slight modification on the events – the kind of predictable, sensationalized films that gave Egyptian cinema a bad name.
The first couple is Ihab (Ahmed Azmy) and Marwa (Youssra El Lozy). Ihab is a faculty of engineering graduate forced to work in a gas station after failing to find a job in his field. Marwa is a dreamy college student, the only daughter of a wealthy businessman and a neglectful father (played by El Lozy’s real father Mahmoud El Lozy) who finds love in the arms of Ihab despite the class disparity. Ihab and Marwa’s story is like “Rudda Kalbi’s (Bring Back My Heart), the romantic Egyptian classic, only with more sex and no fashion flair.
When Marwa’s father stands in the way of their marriage, the two decide on a urfi (unregistered) marriage. Just when things couldn’t get worse, Ihab is blackmailed by an Egyptian porn star named Maya (Nermeen Maher) who gets him drunk, sleeps with him and tapes all the action to coerce him into starring in more videos with her.
The second pair is Ezzat (Bassem Samra) and Hanan (Farah Youssef). The apt Ezzat is the oldest of the group who recently changed his college major to law. Hanan is a go-getter, a pragmatic temptress looking for an easy route for a better future. She sacrifices her love for Ezzat for a much older, rich and attainable university professor (Ahmed Kamal).
The third couple is Mohsen (Mohamed Karim) and Hala (Randa El Behiery). After college, the streetwise Mohsen sells a variety of products on Cairo’s bustling streets, from men’s clothes to electrical appliances. Hala is the daughter of a large family whose patriarch is an avaricious, unloving man who often steals his daughter’s savings. Mohsen and Hala’s storyline is the most tension-free of the bunch and the most believable despite its formulaic nature.
Other characters include a college student who becomes a prostitute to support her mother and eight siblings, and a DJ who sells his dignity for cash.
The promotional campaign for “Kisses tipped it as an authentic, realistic portrait of “adolescents’ problems, which is how most Egyptian films released in the past 11 years are described. The term has been transformed from a dramatic theme to a marketing ploy to attract legions of unsuspecting young viewers.
Despite all the talk of “adolescent problems, only two films in the modern Egyptian cinema managed to present a genuine record of the country’s youth: Yousry Nasrallah’s masterful “El Madina (The City) and Mohamed Amin’s comedy “Film Thakafy.
“Kisses fails as an authentic teen drama and as a compelling, well-crafted story. Hardly any of the film’s multiple storylines or characters ring true, it offers no new insights, no revelations into the same issues we’re bombarded with every day.
El Hagar’s direction is also to be blamed for the film’s failure. Adopting a classical-type of direction doesn’t match the gritty, confrontational subject matter. Instead of lifting the average material from its melodramatic foundations, it plummets with it. The majority of the film is shot indoors, consequently suspending its characters and the audiences from the reality it attempts to capture.
As for the sex, “Kisses is actually pretty tame, nowhere as aggressive as Khaled Youssef’s recent films. For a film with a key objective of depicting the sexual frustration among Egyptian youth, “Kisses fails spectacularly, presenting a polite PG sketch of a predicament whose psychological basis and repercussions are seldom tackled. The handful of “stolen kisses are actually quite passionless, and all actors involved fail to conceal their self-consciousness.
Speaking of the performances, and despite the Alexandria Festival win, the acting is decent, not great though and definitely doesn’t deserve a prize. Ahmed Azmy gives the best performance of the bunch, which doesn’t indicate much.
El Lozy, who was sensational in the short film “Obsession of the Depth, displays an artificiality prompted by the nauseating sweetness of her naïve character.
With lines on the vein of “you’re the only good thing in my life and “you’re the greatest man in the world, I found myself chuckling every time Marwa appeared to fire her saccharine machine-gun on screen or simply covered my face in embarrassment over the cheesiness of the numerous love exchanges between her and Ahmed Azmy’s character.
“Stolen Kisses illustrates the wide gap between filmmakers and the Egyptian street. The low-key, bittersweet and realistic ending of the film entirely contradicts the excessive drama looming over every plotline. As I previously mentioned, Egypt’s current reality is too rich for filmmakers to resort to worn-out archetypes and goofy storylines – a reality that doesn’t require any airbrushing.