A feast of passions

Soha Hesham , Wednesday 20 Oct 2021

Soha Hesham shares some of the highlights of the fifth El Gouna Film Festival

Darren Arnofsky giving his masterclass
Darren Arnofsky giving his masterclass

The fifth El Gouna Film Festival (GFF) opened last Thursday with an open-air Plaza theatre in a ceremony presented by Nardin Faraj and featuring a tribute to the late comedian Samir Ghanem. The celebrated actress Lebleba, who starred opposite Ghanem in nine films, gave a speech. “Ghanem created a special style for himself,” she said. “He was known for his special walk and his different sense of humour.” This was followed by a dancing performance synchronized with a selection of scenes from his career in cinema and theatre.

Sabaya

One Feature Narrative Competition highlight is the French film Un autre monde (Another World), directed by Stéphane Brizé, the third in Brizé’s trilogy, after The Measure of a Man (2015) and At War (2018), a three-part critique of the brutality of capitalism focusing on the working class in a way that brings to mind the work of British filmmaker Ken Loach. All three films star Vincent Lindon. Brizé debut feature was Le bleu des villes (1999), followed by Not Here to Be Loved (2005), Entre adultes (2006), Mademoiselle Chambon (2009), A Few Hours of Spring (2012) and A Woman’s Life (2016). Another World was nominated to the Golden Lion Award at Venice Film Festival this year.

Another World opens with a psychologically intense scene in which a middle-aged couple, Philippe Lemesel (Lindon) and his wife Anne (Sandrine Kiberlain), end up arguing while negotiating their divorce in the presence of their lawyers, who are trying to make it as profitable as possible for their respective clients, and Anne breaks down in tears. Philippe’s job has made it impossible for her to go on living with him. In a heartening scene outside the office, Anne tells Philippe that she doesn’t want the divorce to be as hard as the lawyers are making it and she will let him support her in whichever way he can. Adding to the stress, however, their teenage son Lucas (Anthony Bajon), who appears to be suffering from a behavioral disorder, is admitted to a full-time care institution.

Another World

It becomes clear that Philippe is a factory manager at an international corporation who, about to be laid off, is fighting the decision on behalf of his team while also trying to meet the demands of the factory workers. He comes with a brave plan to keep his employees, offering to drop his annual bonus and requesting that the other manager should do likewise in order to keep the rest of the employees in place in order to keep the budget cuts – only to be thwarted by the American manager in a video conference. The film closes with a philosophical scene in which Lucas is performing a marionette sketch at the care institution that seems to reflect on his parents story outside.

Sabaya – a term for women captured by the enemy at war and turned into sex slaves – is a feature-length Syrian documentary by the Kurdish-Swedish filmmaker Hogir Hirori. It is the story of Mahmoud and Ziyad – both volunteers and members of the Yazidi Home Centre – during their dangerous trips to Al-Hawl camp, in northeastern Syria, to rescue and bring home Yazidi girls held by ISIS, usually one girl at a time. Aided by local woman and as much information as they can gather, they sneak into the camp at night to do their work. The film shows their first rescue mission and the girl eventually telling her story: how she was raped by a 70-year-old man in the name of marriage and, after the man is killed, kept as a slave enduring constant abuse.

Kieślowski exhibition

Though the film shows one rescue operation after another, it never ends up being boring, with the tension and notably the remarkable poise with which Mahmoud deals with it, otherwise leading an ordinary life with his mother. Towards the end former sabaya are seen bravely joining in the rescue operations, accompanied by Mahmoud and Ziyad. Filmed with Hirori’s handheld camera, the 91-minute documentary is a testimony to human and artistic endurance. Born in 1980, Hirori fled to Sweden in 1999 and is now based in Stockholm. He made his first short film, Hewa starkest I Sverige, in 2008. It was followed by Victims of IS (2014) and The Deminer (2017). Sabaya received numerous including the directing award ay the Sundance Film Festival and a special mention at the Zurich Film Festival.

Curated by the renowned art director Onsi Abu Seif, an exhibition on the work of Krzysztof Kieślowski (1941-1996) commemorating the 25th anniversary of his death opened in the presence of GFF director Intishal Al Timimi and GFF cofounder and COO Bushra Rozza. Displayed on black walls with plenty of text, there are 23 framed posters from the Film Museum in Łódź, all inspired by Kieślowski’s films as well as original material from the film archive of the French Cinémathèque and 50 photos. It also features a documentary, Krzysztof Kieślowski – I’m So-So directed by Krzysztof Wierzbicki being played on a loop. It brings up the thoughts and concerns of the late director, as well as three small video installations reflecting Kieślowski’s well-known trilogy: Three Colors: Blue, White and Red. Five films as well as Wierzbicki’s documentary are also being screened outside the exhibition.

The fourth day of festival was delightfully busy day for cinephiles, with a masterclass by Darren Aronofsky that was to take place at the TU Berlin Audimax’s hall but had to be postponed and moved to the Plaza to accommodate the huge number of people who wanted to attend. Introduced by Al Timimi and Rozza, the Brooklyn-born filmmaker expressed his happiness to be in Egypt for the first time since 1987 and his intention to keep coming back. Moderated by GFF programmer Teresa Cavina, the masterclass – which went on for much longer than its allotted time – involved discussions of filmmaking technology and how to keep the budget down.

Arnofsky gave examples from hisn own journey, starting with being impressed by a Spike Lee film and featuring Pi (1998) and The Fountain (2006) as well as his masterpiece Requiem for a Dream (2000), in which the split-screen technique, initially conceived to help save money, ended up being an aesthetic. Arnofsky also discussed his film Mother, which polarized the audience very sharply, saying he was aware that it would be controversial but, being a personal project, he went ahead with it anyway. Preparations for Black Swan (2010), for which Natalie Portman won an Oscar, were long and arduous, involving attending performances of the ballet all over the world.