AFG launches Sky Bridge complex in New Capital    Dahab Development opens reservation for ITC project at New Capital    Egypt is Canada's top trading partner in Africa: Ambassador Louis Dumas    Hope Givers Foundation honours Egyptologist Ali Abu Dashish    EJB forms new board, pledges to support national economy    Travel bans due to Omicron "hammer blow" to South Africa's local economy recovery: official    Egypt celebrates Day of Mediterranean    MICO entertainment platform enters Egyptian market    Health Ministry advises public to adhere to protective measures to tackle Omicron variant    Art D'Egypte concludes 4th contemporary art exhibition "Forever is Now" at Giza Plateau    Austrian Cultural Forum in Cairo to launch exhibition highlighting Arab-Austrian ties    Egypt, Israel sign deal sign MoU to increase gas supplies, hydrogen transport    Egypt's stocks end week in green as benchmark EWX 30 surges 0.69%    Mortada Mansour sets road map for Zamalek, after normalization committee depart    I seek to secure stable financial sources to build strong judo team: Motei Fakhr El-Din    Egyptian karate players dazzle world in UAE    Orascom Construction joins consortium to develop Egypt's first green hydrogen production facility    Egypt's high committee to organise COP27 convenes to review preparations    98 potential candidates run for Libyan presidency    'Lake Victoria – Mediterranean' navigation corridor awaits feasibility studies, funds: official    Egypt's trade with Nile basin countries climbs 26% y-o-y in 9 months    Palestine's Foreign Ministry rejects UK's decision to designate Hamas as terror group    Egypt selected to host COP27 international climate conference in 2022    Number of British tourists to Egypt seen hitting 500,000 this winter – envoy    The unvaccinated prohibited from entry to Egypt state institutions starting December 1    Egypt, Greece ink deal for first subsea power link between Europe and Africa    SCOHRE sparks discussion on harm reduction, tobacco control    Egypt to receive first of six high-trains from Spain's Talgo in mid-November    Egypt's iron and steel exports jump 197% in 8 months    Ethiopia halts work at its embassy in Egypt for 'economic reasons'    It's a bit frustrating to draw at home: Real Madrid keeper after Villarreal game    Russia says it's in sync with US, China, Pakistan on Taliban    Shoukry reviews with Guterres Egypt's efforts to achieve SDGs, promote human rights    Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines    Johnson & Johnson: Second shot boosts antibodies and protection against COVID-19    Egypt to tax bloggers, YouTubers    Egypt's FM asserts importance of stability in Libya, holding elections as scheduled    Brazil calls up 8 EPL players for World Cup qualifying    We mustn't lose touch: Muller after Bayern win in Bundesliga    Egypt records 36 new deaths from Covid-19, highest since mid June    Egypt sells $3 bln US-dollar dominated eurobonds    Sisi calls on House, Senate to commence second legislative sessions on 3, 5 October    Gamal Hanafy's ceramic exhibition at Gezira Arts Centre is a must go    Italian Institute Director Davide Scalmani presents activities of the Cairo Institute for ITALIANA.IT platform    Qa'a play showing at Lycee El Horreya Theatre, Alexandria is a must go    APO Group enters new exclusive agreement with Getty Images on African press releases and images    On International Museum Day, Egypt opens two new museums at Cairo Airport    Old Cairo's Al-Fustat will be revamped on Egyptian President's directives    







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Helmets and ribbons
Published in Ahram Online on 03 - 11 - 2020

As in the last three rounds, and despite the exceptional challenges of Covid, this year viewers left El Gouna Film Festival satisfied with a selection of strong an important films from all over the world. Yet, more than in previews rounds, perhaps, in this year's programme politics predominated.
Quo Vadis, Aida? which won the El Gouna Golden Star and the best actress award (for Jasna Duricic) was about the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, when units of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska under the command of Ratko Mladić killed 8000 mostly male citizens. Written and directed by filmmaker and activist Jasmila Zbanic, the film is set in a UN shelter two days before the massacre.
The filmmaker digs deep into the political circumstances surrounding the central event, opening with a meeting of the Dutch UN peacekeeping commander (the Blue Helmets) and the mayor of Srebrenica, who asks them to protect civilians from the Bosnian Serb Army marching towards the city. The commander says Mladić's forces are in no position to harm Srebrenica's citizens since UN airstrikes can easily target their camps and units. Yet Mladić's forces do enter the city, arrest and kill its male residents (including the mayor), while some 30 thousand flee to the UN shelter...
The film tells the story from the viewpoint of the UN translator, Aida, whose husband and son are trying to enter the shelter (her other son is already inside). The tension rises when the Bosnian Serb Army commander insists on meeting a delegation of citizens accompanied by the UN colonel to negotiate evacuating the city in buses provided by the Serbs. Aida's agony becomes apparent as she finds out that Mladić's units are transporting the females but taking the males (including children) for interrogation.
One master scene takes place when Aida and her husband plead with the deputy commander of the Blue Helmets to put them down as UN employees – first all four of them, then just the sons, then only one son – while he says no. Years later Aida is scene walking around a mass grave searching for the body of her son, whose bones she eventually identifies by his shoe. Duricic's acting performance is incredible throughout.
The film seems to close with a symbolic statement when Aida returns to her former job as a schoolteacher. A school show is being performed by students, and the audience is made up of parents from both sides of the civil war. At one point in the dance the performers cover and uncover their faces with their hands, suggesting the question of whether to show or hide what happened. The film manages to present a terrible episode of history as a human experience, reaching remarkable empathetic heights
As usual, forgetting that a subjective element is unavoidable in any competition, some audience members contested the award of Silver Star to Damiano and Fabio D'Innocenzo's Bad Tales. In this film, the Italian brothers adopt a slow buildup reminiscent of Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or-winning White Ribbon (2009), which also won 60 additional awards. Like Haneke's film, Bad Tales – which won Berlin's Silver Bear for best screenplay, among 13 other awards – traces society's ills to the wayward urges of children and adults.
Under The Stars Of Paris
Set on the outskirts of Rome, the film focuses on several middle-class families and the relations between them and, especially, their children, who are around 12 years old. In one scene, three families are having dinner. A father asks his daughter and son to read out the results of the school exam, and the two children grow pale even though they both got full marks for all subjects (except for one subject in which the sister got nine out of 10). Quirks and humour ameliorate the oppressive sense of foreboding that permeates the film. The plot revolves around the families realising that, with knowledge gleaned at school, their children have killed themselves – with the beautifully edited climactic sequence making for especially harrowing viewing.
Among many films tacking the theme of forced displacement, Kawther Bin Hania's The Man Who Sold His Skin won the best Arabic film Award. Claus Drexel's Under the Stars of Paris too tells the story of an immigrant child, with the title misleadingly evoking the glamour of La Ville Lumière, but at the same time it addresses the theme of homelessness. To Drexel, who cowrote the film with Olivier Brunhes, origin and identity – race, nationality, status – matters less than the suffering all human beings share.
Bad Tales
With a somewhat predictable script, the film is the encounter, under one old bridge over the Seine, of a homeless woman who appears to be from a well-off background, Christine – as the film rather redundantly tells us, a scientist who lost her loved ones and eventually also her home – and an eight-year-old African boy named Suli who was separated from his mother when the police stormed the illegal immigrant shelter where they were staying. When Suli shows up at Christine's hiding place one rainy night, she gives him a dry pullover but asks him to leave. The story develops as they end up sticking together, however, as Christine is kicked out and they start looking for Suli's mother.
Having made a documentary about the homeless in Paris in 2013, On the Edge of the World, the filmmaker navigates the underworld with ease. He manages to convey an urgent sense of tragedy with very little dialogue.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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