It is hard to deny the existence of a deity when one enters a film and unexpectedly finds that is has both Ladies Love Ahmed Ezz AND Bassem Samra on the same bill. Such was my good fortune tonight when I went to see ‘el shaba7.’
It was touch or go whether I would arrive on time – or indeed this century – because I happened upon the world’s slowest taxi driver, who was even slower than Sharshar and my father, both of whom drive as if they are going through an invisible and never-ending very deep puddle. My father says he is a cautious and responsible driver and to prove it wears driving gloves without which his ability to maintain a secure and safe grip on the wheel would be seriously undermined. One of these inevitably gets lost every time we get in the car, and so yes, I suppose he is a safe driver, because cautious motoring doesn’t get much bloody safer than being stationary while you search your vehicle for a driving glove. The taxi driver was about 90 and made odd clacking noises the whole time with his dentures, which sounded like a metronome beating out the rhythm of our excruciatingly slow process.
Once at the Galaxy cinema I was greeted by Sharshar and Oosha who I ignored while I gazed at the poster of Mr Ahmed staring mysteriously into the middle distance and looking fit. It being the eve of a national holiday the cinema was full of families, one of which had been seated in two rows, one at the very front and one at the back in front of us. Granddad occupied the seat in front of me, and seemed unable to bear to be seated apart from his grandchildren, so ten minutes into the film he called their names as if he was in his own living room, and beckoned them with that waggling finger scooping motion which entirely obscured my view of Ahmed Ezz.
The film itself is a film noir thriller type affair reminiscent of ‘malaaky iskandereyya’, which also starred Mr Ezz. The acting is largely good, with two notable exceptions: Zeina and Bassem Samra. Zeina is extremely good-looking with dimples and cheekbones and pouty lips and a nice rack. She cannot, however, act for toffee, and her acting range consists of conveying fear/anger/disappointment/sadness/happiness by widening her eyes as far as they will go. In this role she was meant to be a lovable, down to earth, slightly silly lass, and spent almost the entire film attempting to reproduce the cheeky balady-woman flirty mannerisms which 50s and 60s actresses (Soad Hosny et al) did so well. Zeina overplayed it with her faux innocence to such an extent that the desire to vomit she induced almost prevented me from concentrating on Ahmed Ezz. She needs to cease and desist immediately.
At the other end of the spectrum Bassem Samra was electric, and the two (what a gross misuse of talent!) scenes in which he appeared were electric. He completely dominates scenes with his presence, but yet is one of those actors who are able to shed their own identity so completely that you can’t believe that this man who looks like Bassem Samra really isn’t a dodgy bloke with a moustache from el Maxx who wants to kill Ahmed Ezz. I don’t know if Bassem Samra speaks English enough to act in this language, but if he does, and if there is any justice in the world, he will be snapped up immediately and school half of the idiots in Hollywood earning millions with their crappy attempts at acting. And why the bloody hell isn’t he in more leading roles in Egyptian films, these roles instead being given to morons who don’t even possess half of his ability? Is it because he looks too Egyptian? Baffling and infuriating.
One of the best things about the film was that it was shot in real locations (rather than a studio) in various parts of Cairo and Ismaileyya. Coincidentally enough, Sharshar, Oosha, Um Nakad and I went to Ismaileyya on Thursday night to eat fish, and Sharshar and I elbowed each other knowledgably in the ribs each time a building we recognised appeared on the screen. If you ever feel the urge to go to Ismaileyya to eat fish, go to Fish Land, which is an unassuming looking restaurant which sells the best fish soup known to mankind as well as an assortment of scrumptious seafood and salads, and all for 35 LE. Thirty-five LE!! We were unable to believe how cheap the food was as we sat there snorting and shovelling food into our mouths like pigs at a trough.
Other remarkable things about Ismaileyya include its magnificent architecture and the fact that people stop at traffic lights at night even when there is not a policeman there, which is a phenomenon I have never observed in Egypt. And the people are very nice too, Oosha’s frankly stupid question (given that Ismaileyya is surrounded by water) ‘law sama7t el ba7r fein?’ [‘excuse me, where’s the sea?’] prompted a patient and detailed set of instructions about how to get there. One person asked him, ‘tab ta3araf amn el dawla fein?’ [‘do you know where state security is?’] which we thought was an odd and somewhat alarming landmark to reference, until we saw that the location of state security is even indicated on road signs, indeed on the same road sign which pointed the direction to the beach. I suppose it is useful if one wants to report a spot of political insurrection after having some fun in the sun.
Mention must also be made of Ismaileyya’s magnificent mangoes, whose sweetness is like licking a honeycomb. Upon leaving Ismaileyya, my stomach happily digesting the fish as Oosha expounded on Ismaileyya’s excellence (‘fashee7’a’) we noticed a statue dedicated to another kind of fruit-shaped object at city limits:
Ismaileyya, I love you.