Youm Mat’abelna (The Day we Met), the sole Egyptian entry in the International Feature Films Competition, is not a bad picture to look at, with a quiet pace and few endearing moments. At the deep end of the film, though, it s a story that says nothing, where nothing much happens.
I understand what director Ismail Murad was trying to accomplish, and his mature, unruffled direction is admirable and appealing. However, Zeinab Aziz’s script, based on a short story by Taghreed El-Asfoury, doesn’t offer much to chew, leaving major gaps unfilled while failing to properly establish its character.
I hate to say this because Murad has a lot of potential to grow into a confident, adept filmmaker, but “The Day We Met feels unfocused and utterly pointless.
Set in one day, the film centres on an encounter between two childhood sweethearts decades since they last saw each other.
Youssef (Mahmoud Hemeida) is a middle-aged actor in the prime of his career. He has a son (Ahmed Nour) who is getting ready to move abroad. The pair doesn’t communicate much, and judging by the son’s cool attitude, it appears that Youssef hasn’t been much of a father.
He also has a young daughter from a second marriage to feisty actress Farida (Ola Ghanem), who attempts to get back with him. In addition, he happens to be in a nameless, disturbing relationship with the much younger Randa El-Behiery who pushes reluctant Youssef for marriage.
Zeinab (Lebleba), on the other hand, is leading a much simpler life. She hasn’t left the tiny, modest neighborhood she grew up in and has been happily married to a widower (Sief Abdel Rahman) for more than 20 years.
Zeinab is living in the same household with her husband’s two adult sons (Ahmed Azmy and Mohamed Nagaty), his sister and her young kid (Fady Khafaga).
Youssef goes back to his old neighborhood for the first time in years to shoot some scenes for his new film. He meets Zeinab who, coincidently, locks herself out of the house and is forced to wait until her family comes home late in the afternoon.
The couple is soon driven to the house of Om Nasif, the place where they used to meet when they were toddlers. Old and lonely, the Alzheimer-stricken, kind-hearted Christian Om Nasif (Enaam Salousa) asks the pair to accompany her to the nursing home to visit her ailing sister. During their journey, Youssef and Zeinab start to contemplate what they’ve missed throughout those years.
As they find out by the end of the movie, they haven’t actually missed anything. Zeinab is quite content with her life, loves her children and feels blessed with her husband’s unconditional love.
Youssef can’t complain much either. He has fame, fortune, millions of fans and a caring ex-wife who still has feelings for him.
His old relationship with Zeinab is nothing more than a distant reverie. The two don’t have a real history, no unfulfilled promises to regret. In short, Youssef and Zeinab never really had a tangible relationship, just a bunch of nostalgic childhood memories.
The film contains no conflict, not even a minor one to the keep the drama flowing. Instead, Murad relies on a series of well-executed comical situations – including a sing-along dance number and a peculiar conversation with two mute newlywed couples that doesn’t add much to the drama.
Murad told reporters at the film’s press conference that he wanted to create a film “about loneliness. If that’s his true intention, it doesn’t show on screen.
There are few passing moments when the two touch upon the topic and they certainly feel for Om Nasif whose kids left her and immigrated (apparently, all Christian characters in Egyptian films do).
But we hardly sense that they’re suffering from solitude. Even in their few intimate conversations, the topic never really comes up.
At the end of the day, the two go their separate ways unchanged. The encounter will soon be forgotten, simply because it’s of little significance, and that’s perhaps what the entire film feels like. I walked out of the theater unmoved, shrugged my head in indifference and before long, I forgot all about Youssef and Zeinab.