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Chronicles of a daydreamer
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 29 - 11 - 2018

The Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) has been an important cinematic event in the Middle East since it was founded in 1976 by writer, journalist and Egyptologist Kamal Al-Malakh. This year, filmmakers and film lovers celebrate the 40th anniversary of CIFF (20-29 September), which also has a new president, the producer and screenwriter Mohamed Hefzy. The festival has also launched its inaugural edition of the Cairo Industry Days, a film industry platform in which professionals are taking part in panel discussions, workshops and masterclasses that tackle regional and international issues alongside a co-production market for projects in development and post production with grants and prizes of over US$150 thousand. Yet the competition sections are more interesting to cinephiles still.


Making death the theme of a film is no easy task, since it is such an overpowering dramatic element. But in Italian filmmaker Valeria Golino's second film, Euphoria, which premiered in Cannes's Un Certain Regard, death is the focus. Goliano is a well-known actor with two Best Actress awards from the Venice Film Festival for Francesco Maselli's A Tale of Love in 1986 and Giuseppe Godino's For Your Love in 2015. Her directorial debut, Honey, won the Ecumenical Jury Prize at Un Certain Regard in 2013.
Written by Francesca Marciano, Valeria Golino and Valia Santella as well as Golino, Euphoria is the story of two brothers: Ettore (Valerio Mastandrea) and Matteo (Riccardo Scamarcio). Ettore, a conservative divorcee with a son, Andrea, lives in the provinces with his elderly mother, while Matteo, a charismatic gay man and a cheerful and successful entrepreneur, lives in luxurious penthouse in Rome. This contrast is the core of the drama.
After the opening scene showing the wild, hidden part of Matteo's lifestyle, the man about town receives a phone call from a doctor informing him that Ettore is suffering from an aggressive brain tumor that leaves him no more than six-eight months to live. Matteo decides to postpone an important business trip to Abu Dhabi and goes to his hometown to pick up his brother, who he brings to live with him in his penthouse so that he can be close to medical facilities for checkups and radiotherapy.
But while the film tells the tragic story of Ettore's illness it is really about Matteo's own character contradictions: his emotional compassion and generosity (he gives Ettore a credit card and a car with a chauffeur) versus his extreme selfishness and meanness, which comes through during the trip he arranges for them to take together to the shrine of Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
With the filmmaker focusing on daily details and character contrasts, the plot doesn't develop until the very end when Matteo decides to call the girlfriend for whom Ettore had left his wife, Elena (Jasmine Trinca), later ending their relationship out of concern for his son's psychological well-being. Matteo means well by revealing Ettore's condition to Elena, wanting to make the last few days of his brother's life as happy as they can be, but Ettore is infuriated when he finds out…

Mamang (the word means “Mother”) is another official competition film that deals with death. The debut narrative feature by Filipino director Denise O'Hara is a low-budget family production, written and directed by O'Hara and produced by her father Jerry and brother Paolo. Shot mostly within a small suburban house, it is the story of an elderly lady (Celeste Legaspi) living in a suburb of Manila with her young son Ferdie (Ketchup Eusebio).
The script has a theatrical structure preserving Aristotle's three unities, with the opening scenes introducing the family as Ferdie (who has lost his job and been jilted) tries to wake up his mother, who seems even more depressed as she is reluctant to leave her bed. Considering the weight of such sadness, the filmmaker manages to convey this information with exemplary lightness and subtlety.
The mother suffers from old-age dementia, which involves hallucinations – a police officer (Paolo O'Hara) eating her son's breakfast in the kitchen, for example – but her hallucinations begin to tell the story of her life. Her handsome and unfaithful husband abuses her; she finds him in bed with another woman. The police officer turns out to be the one who arrested and executed her first boyfriend, a member of the communist Hukbalahap guerrilla movement of the 1950s.
As the action builds up and Ferdie leaves his mother with the maid in search of work, it eventually becomes clear that he too is dead…

Violence against women and hallucinations are equally central to the Cypriot-Greek screenwriter, director and producer Tonia Mishial's film Pause, which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Thessaloniki Film Festival. The story of Elpida (Stella Fyrogeni), a middle-aged woman facing menopause as clear in the opening scenes at the gynaecologist's. The film shows every detail of Elpida's life: her thorough cleaning and cooking routines and the attention she pays her husband Costas (Andreas Vasiliou).
Having no control over any part of her life, Elpida seeks refuge in a number of things. She eavesdrops on her neighbours' lovemaking and watches them kissing on the stairs as the man leaves, fantasising about him coming back to kiss her instead. She paints still lifes which her friend Eleftheria (Popi Avraam) helps her to sell, and she uses the proceeds to dye her hair. But, driving around town, it is increasingly unclear whether what Elpida is experiencing is reality or fantasy. When Costas sells her car and eventually ends up dying, it is unclear whether or not she poisoned him…
Fyrogeni demonstrates remarkable control while looking, speaking, even eating, conveying the sense of being on the verge of a breakdown but hiding it extremely well, and communicating the sense that she is likely to commit a crime. A well executed take on the issue of women's equality in a patriarchal society, Pause is nonetheless overloaded with conventional feminist ideas. It demonises the male character – who is portrayed as aggressive, selfish and filthy who cares about no one and nothing except his pet parrot – and reduces what will always remain a complex power dynamic into a master-slave connection, ultimately doing its cause more harm than good.

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