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Much ado about crime
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 30 - 08 - 2018

Actor Youssef Al-Sherif started his career in Sherif Sabri's debut Sabaa Warakat Kotshina (Seven Play Cards, 2004), then he played a major role in Youssef Chahine's last feature film Heya fawda (This is Chaos, 2007) which premiered in the Venice Film Festival's official competition. His first lead was in Ahmed Medhat's action flick Al-Alamy (International, 2009), but he hadn't been in films since then, starring instead in thriller-style television series like Othman Abu Laban's Citizen X (2011), which depicted the 25 January Revolution and the murder of Khaled Said.
In Ahmed Nader Galal's Bani Adam (“Son of Adam”, a common Arabic term for “human being”), his first film since Al-Alamy, Al-Sherif plays Adam, a rich businessman (married with a child) who also happens to be a powerful gangster. Written by Amr Samir Atef, the film opens with him leading a band of seven bank robbers on an immaculate operation that goes as planned except for one of them, Hamdi, stealing one of the bank clients' jewels and thereby jeopardising the whole operation (Adam throws Hamdi out of the gang and withholds his share of the loot as a result).
The conventional detective formula of cop catches thief involves Hamdi calling a detective (Ahmed Rezk) to tell him about Adam, and the detective eventually finding out about the actual leader of the gang of which Adam is the frontman, the Professor (Mahmoud Al-Guindy), a title that seems to be inspired by the Italian mob, with Giuseppe Tornatore's 1986 debut on one of the Camorra leaders, for example, titled The Professor. As we find out through a conversation between two detectives, this man started out as a university professor in criminology, then apparently without motive or sense, betraying a ludicrous disregard for the rules of character development, determined how to commit the perfect crime.
The Professor presents the viewer with a number of obvious problems beyond lack of originality as such. A copy of Walter White in Breaking Bad (with chemistry changed to criminology), the Professor talks like a thug, not an intellectual. His appearance recalls the successful character but he doesn't have half as much substance.
As the Professor takes Adam's wife and child hostage in order to retrieve half a tonne of gold that Adam stole from the airport and decided to take for himself, the main plot twist, explained in an ongoing conversation between Adam and a mysterious character who seems to be Adam's confessor (Bayoumi Fouad), turns the action into a confusing morality tale until a major explosion accompanying a police raid marks the denouement, and the film ends with the information that everyone present in the building where the explosion occurs has died. It turns out that Adam's confession has been taking place after his death, and the confessor — his conscience — is his schoolteacher. The last sequence is an irritatingly sentimental photomontage of Adam's childhood and afterlife seashore walks with his son and wife.
***
Tourab Al-Mass
Tourab Al-Mass (Diamond Dust), filmmaker Marwan Hamed's take on Ahmad Murad's bestselling 2010 novel, has been topping the box office this Eid. This is Murad's third collaboration with Hamed as a screenwriter, after Al-Feil Al-Azrak (The Blue Elephant, 2014) and Al-Aslyeen (The Indigenous, 2017), the latter written directly for the screen. And, recalling DMT and the blue lotus flower in the last two films, this film features a dangerous substance, diamond dust, at the centre of the drama. This time, however, the substance is not a psychedelic but a poison. And the premise, which enfolds within its development as many genres as it can, is revenge.
The film opens with 1954 political footage of Mohamed Naguib's brief presidency and Gamal Abdel-Nasser taking over, which turns out to be a television documentary narrated by the famous presenter and political analyst Sherif Murad (Eyad Nassar). It quickly moves onto an old paralytic, Hussein Al-Zahar (brilliantly performed by Ahmed Kamal), a retired history teacher living with his son Taha (Asser Yassin) and his sister Fayka (Sabrine), who spends his time spying on his neighbours with binoculars and implausibly uncovering all kinds of corruption in the process.
Taha is a pharmacist who works at a nearby chemist's, and when he refuses to sell a controlled drug to an evidently well-connected addict nicknamed Al-Serveess (or “the Minibus”) because of his size (Mohamed Mamdouh), his life goes to pieces. To help him, Hussein visits the long-standing MP Mahrous Bergaz (Ezzat Al-Alayli), only to end up killed in the house. When Taha enters the house to find his father dead and the killer still there, he is seriously hurt and, helped by his neighbour Sara (Menna Shalabi), ends up in hospital. Only when he finds his father's secret diary does Taha understand what has happened.
Apprenticed to a Jewish jeweller, Al-Khawaga Letto (Bayoumi Fouad), Hussein learns how to use diamond dust as an undetectable murder weapon — and his first victim is Letto himself, whom he kills after he discovers that he is a traitor aiding the Israeli army by sending light signals to Israeli planes. Hussein becomes invincible, capable of deciding whose life to end: he periodically targets someone, telling them he can see the future in his dreams and he saw them, before sending them to Hades. Even in old age, a bottle of diamond dust is hidden in the arm of his wheelchair.
Police corruption is evident in the behaviour of officer Walid Sultan (Maged Al-Kedwani), who is in league with Bergaz's son Hani (Adel Karam), whose own parliamentary bid the officer is facilitating in return for money. The film's many subplots include Hani's son being arrested in connection with homosexuality (recalling Hamed's 2006 Yacoubian Building) and Sara's secret affair with Sherif Murad and discovers that he films his sexual partners without their knowledge.
Despite Kamal's well-rounded performance and Hamed's gripping direction, the film suffers from genre confusion and information overkill, with too much going on and too little originality or purpose. Asser Yassin and Menna Shalabi's performances too were somewhat disappointing, so were the narration and flashback technique.
***
Al-Kiwayseen
The good news about Al-Kiwayseen (“the Good Ones”) — directed by Ahmed Al-Guindy, written by Bassem Youssef's writer Ayman Watter and starring, among others, two of the most successful comedians working now: Ahmed Fahmy and Bayoumi Fouad — is that it holds no surprises. It is a typical Egyptian comedy, with no object or achievement beyond laughter. Al-Guindy is perhaps best known for directing comedian Ahmed Makki — in films such as H Dabbour (2008) and Fly Away (2009) and in the TV series Al-Kebir Awi (The Very Big Boss, 2010-15) — though he also directed the comedy trio Ahmed Fahmy, Chico and Hisham Maged in World War III (2014) before Fahmy split and struck out on his own. His experience in this brand of entertainment shows.
Laughter aside, Al-Kiwayseen has an unoriginal premise and neither characters nor plot, but many jokes without context. It revolves around three scammers: Ahmed Fahmy plays Mazhar Kiwayes (“Good Appearance”), a terrible-looking and ill-mannered man; Asma Abul Yazid plays his tomboy wife Ghazal Moftah (“Key to Flirtation”); and Ahmed Fathy their son Uncle Gohar. Pretending to be the heir of a rich family (the Kiwayseen) whose villa has been converted into an amusement park, the three aim to steal a precious jewel hidden there. There they clash with more than one resident Kiwayes, who are themselves amusing specimens: Arif (“Knowing” — played by senior film star Hussein Fahmy), who pretends to be pious; Hafez (“Keeping” — Bayoumi Fouad), the family miser; and Poussi (Sherine Reda), a birds rights association member who is careless of her family including her mentally challenged daughter. Although Mazhar fail in their mission, the film ends with other pretenders having a go.
One thing that makes the film appealing is the number of cameos it includes: Chico, Hisham Maged, Akram Hosny, Mustafa Khater, Mohamed Tharwat and Ahmed Malek — all household names, with the latter in his first comedy role as a young member of the crime world torn between his career and his fear of his mother — making brief appearances. But the female roles are inadequately written, with Abul Yazid — who made her name in the popular TV series, This Evening (2017) and Eugenie Nights (2018) — unable to make an impression despite being in the lead. Reda maintained her powerful presence, however.


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