In one of the most famous scenes of Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 classic “The Bad and the Beautiful, a big-time producer, played by Kirk Douglas, scolds his director, played by Leo G. Carroll, during production over the lack of sufficient climaxes in the film. The director hits back, saying he should direct the movie himself to have it exactly as he wants it.
“To direct a picture, the director tells the producer, “a man needs humility. Do you have humility?
Someone, somewhere, should have asked producer-cum-director Hany Gerges Fawzi the same question when he decided months ago to direct his first film “Bedoon Rekaba, which hit Egyptian theaters last Wednesday.
Turns out that Fawzi – producer of Ossama Fawzi’s highly-acclaimed “Afarit El-Aasphalt (Ghosts of the Asphalt) and “Baheb El-Cima (I Love Cinema) – has no humility, imagination or a single ounce of talent.
Forget the dozens of bad Egyptian flicks released of late, Fawzi’s directorial debut is the most crass, contemptible major Egyptian release since Sobky’s “Alaya El Tarab Bel Talata in 2006.
On the surface, “Bedoon Rekaba (Uncensored) is another teen comedy that (you guessed it) tackles “youth problems. Essentially, the film is nothing more than a series of mindless, predictable gags, embarrassingly tacky musical numbers (four to be exact), and separate lingering shots of scantily-clad young women that have absolutely no dramatic function in this commotion.
The fact that the audience of the Downtown theater where I witnessed this monstrosity was cheering loudly throughout the movie speaks volumes about Egyptian adolescents, than does the actual movie.
“Bedoon Rekaba centers on a group of law school students who spend most of their days smoking hash, partying and having sex in an apartment owned by the group’s unofficial leader, Hany, played by pop star Ahmed ‘Blue Eyes’ Fahmy.
Hany is a rich, spoilt lothario always on the lookout for his next sexual conquest. His new prey is the innocent, yet unbelievably hot high-school student Nora, played by sultry Lebanese pop singer Maria (of the “Baby One More Time rip-off music video “Elaab ).
Apparently, Nora is unlike any girl Hany has ever met (aren’t they always?); in other words, she’s reluctant to accept his sexual advances until the last third of the movie.
Edward plays Sameh, the overweight hapless sod the former singer has played in more than half a dozen pictures. Sameh comes from an economically modest family and is in a relationship with his disciplined, veiled college sweetheart Shaimaa (Randa El Beheiry) who pushes him to propose before her parents force her into an arranged marriage.
Riham, played by Dolly Shahin (another sultry Lebanese pop singer), is an easygoing gold digger also hailing from a modest background. She is involved in a strictly-bedroom relationship with Hany founded on a mutual agreement they both seem content with: she gives him her body (in addition to dishwashing and cooking) in exchange for the notorious apartment where she’s allowed to live in unconditionally.
Elsewhere, Bassem El-Samra plays Ibrahim Malzama (Ibrahim Transcript), a serious, opportunistic (religious) phony who provides the group with study notes. Ibrahim is sexually repressed, hiding his desires (and his inability to fulfill them) under a cloak of faux-morals. Karim, played by Nabil Eissa, is the group’s drug supplier and the biggest pothead of the bunch.
The standout member of the lot is Sherine (the oldest college student in the world), played by none other than the controversial Ola Ghanem. Sherine was inaccurately referred to in other reviews as a lesbian, when she is, in fact, bi-sexual with a certain preference for girls.
Instead of following in the footsteps of recent Egyptian movies and depicting his heroine as a manipulative, sick villain, Fawzy invents a novel back-story to complement his sacred message. Like Hany, Sherine is a liberal, filthy-rich woman left alone in Cairo by her parents who work in the Gulf. The absence of her parents left Sherine – who was introduced to lesbian sex by her cousin at the age of 14 – to take freedom “to a different, extreme level as her occasional sex partner Karim says.
Replete with loose, cliché plotlines with insufferably predictable details and a conclusion written by four fresh graduates of the Higher Institute of Cinema, “Bedoon Rekaba doesn’t contain a single redeeming element.
Performances are exceptionally dreadful; Eissa is irritatingly over-the-top and inane, Edward and El-Samra offer absolutely nothing distinctive from their previous roles, Shahin is a mere doll exploited solely for her good looks while Ghanem is too shallow, too droopy to inject her character with depth or empathy.
All these actors appear like veteran luminaries when compared to Ahmed Fahmy and Maria. With no charisma, wit or intelligence, Fahmy’s performance consists of rambling, jumping, flaunting his abs while tormenting the viewers with his endless, fatal gawks that beg to take notice of his blue eyes. Maria accomplishes a rare feat, delivering the most wooden, soulless screen debut ever seen on screen
Insipidity and ham-fisted direction aside, there’s also something repulsive and vulgar about Fawzi’s direction.
For the larger part of the film, his camera is fixated on the torsos of his actresses, dissecting every inch of their bodies. The gaze of Fawzi’s camera is akin to an old, sexually depraved man peering at his young daughter’s friends.
Unlike, say, the recurring voyeuristic themes of Hitchcock or Paul Verhoeven’s seductive, stylish erotica, Fawzi’s frames are deprived of any remote aesthetic quality. I don’t mind sex and nudity, and I honestly don’t have a moral stance against this aspect of film, mainly because I refuse to judge a picture from a moral standpoint.
My problem with Fawzi’s film has nothing to do with ethics; it’s a question of what’s artistically good and what’s not. The images Fawzi conjures are blunt, amateurish and downright ugly.
Fawzi’s film, to a great extent, champions the hedonistic lifestyle of its characters. With the exception of El-Beheiry, all main and secondary characters are dressed in provocative outfits, presiding in an Egypt existing only in the mind of the director.
The peculiar thing is how the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the film, shouting for nudity and lesbian action, and leaving the theater the moment Fawzi abruptly began to push his final message about the perils of the lack of parental guidance down our throats.
Traditions and religious values aside, this is the kind of lifestyle young Egyptian men sorely crave. No wonder the film is a major success with the lower middle-class Downtown audience. The angry voices raised to protest the sheer existence of homosexual characters and the actresses’ “scandalous outfits were drowned out by the young audience’s enthusiasm for the movie.
The disparate reactions to “Bedoon Rekaba clearly illustrate the polarization of Egyptian society between self-appointed guardians of morality and those who refuse them. Then there are a few like myself who stand as plain spectators, baffled at the absurdity of this charade.