Al Fagoumy offers a shallow recreation of the famous musical duo

Menna Taher, Thursday 2 Jun 2011

Al Fagoumy, a biopic about the Egyptian outspoken poet Ahmed Fouad Negm and his friend and companion the oud player El Sheikh Imam, does not do the iconic duo justice

Al Fagoumy

It seems that films currently screened in cinemas or being shot are all drawing on the revolutionary period we are living in, yet nothing about the films is revolutionary. One can say that there is a very long way ahead for Egyptian cinema to be revolutionised.

Al Fagoumy is one such example. The film follows the life of the dissident poet Ahmed Fouad Negm (Khaled El Sawy) and his long-life friend, the oud player El Sheikh Imam (Salah Abdallah); a duo that was a symbol of resistance in the 1960s and 1970s. Their music still holds power today, being played in Tahrir Square, and is still used in many instances to reflect on the country’s troubles.

Yet nothing in the film indicated that these characters were remotely interesting; Ahmed Fouad Negm’s poetry is made to seem detached from the man. Neither his anger nor his political awareness, which would later produce these words of contempt, sarcasm and defiance, are portrayed. Character development is almost obsolete and there is no exploration of what brought about the changes in him or led to his growth. Rather, at the beginning he is depicted as an oblivious idiot who doesn’t understand much, a notion that only changes slightly throughout.

When Ahmed Fouad Negm isn’t reciting poetry in the film, he isn’t saying anything of substance, perhaps only some words about the struggle of farmers and workers, which only reflects the glaringly superficial script.

A huge amount of time, however, is dedicated to his love life. Not that a biopic about an activist should not hold any romantic content, especially as Negm was married several times, but when it overshadows everything else in the film, it becomes a problem.

El Sheikh Imam isn’t portrayed any better; he comes across as nothing more than just an oud player tagging behind Negm, with no real stances regarding any of dominant issues.

When it comes to politics, the film fails to have any depth. The weak script rendered political discussions into a mere narration by the characters, infused with a huge amount of shallow stereotyping, to explain the changes in the political sphere.

Considering that the film’s director and scriptwriter Essam El Shamaa has worked mostly in Egyptian soap operas, the nauseating melodramatic tone throughout the film should come as no surprise. This tone is achieved in scenes of both large demonstrations and more intimate personal ones.

Melodrama is the dominant factor in a film that desperately called for subtlety. Not subtlety of stance, per se, but in moments that would have been a lot more powerful if they weren’t delivered in such an over-the-top manner.

One such example is a scene of torture, reminiscent of Khaled Youssef’s Heena Maysara. The scenes are so far from realism that they fail to evoke any emotions in the viewer, as they are comic rather than horrific.

Some attempts to be artsy also failed miserably by being forced. One attempt, however, did work; a scene depicting Richard Nixon's visit to Egypt after the 1973 war to which Negm recited a poem by the Nile, accompanied by shots of a clown strolling by making funny gestures.

Failed attempts were many. One such example was a fight between people in the in the Khosh Kadam alley, where Negm and Imam lived. As the residents fought one another because of their frustration at the rising prices, one man asked them to stop. “Shouldn’t you be fighting the government instead?”

After his statement, they look towards him as the image freezes turning to a sepia coloured shot followed by footage of the 1977 ‘Bread Riots” on 17 and 18 January.  

The Khosh Kadam alley itself, where many of the large-crowd scenes took place, gives off the impression that it was a studio-made alley rather than a real one. Perhaps this was only a reflection of the film; a failed recreation of two important figures in the Egyptian consciousness.

This is confirmed by the director himself who named Ahmed Fouad Negm Adham Fouad Nesr and El Sheikh Imam El Sheikh Hamam.  

But all of these failings pale when compared to the film’s greatest flaw, the use of footage from Tahrir Square during the January 25 uprising at the end of the film.

One has to wonder the importance of using such footage, especially that it is directly followed by a scene from 1977, where Negm is in detainment reciting his poem Moatakal Tora (Tora Prisoner), where he reflects on President Sadat’s detainment of political dissidents at the beginning of each year in January.  

Did the director finds relevance to the January 25 uprising because of the usage of the word January in the poem? If so, then the point of transition is very weak.

Are films now inserting any footage they can from Tahrir Square just to glorify the current uprising or is the intention to make the film time-relevant?

The director could have reflected on current impeding issues through the film’s events, since many conflicts still hold true today. Instead, he used mediocre scenes from Tahrir Square to give the film a forced ending that doesn’t reflect much on anything.

The film is showing at the following cinemas: Renaissance Nile City Cinema, Renaissance Downtown, Renaissance Cairo Mall, Renaissance Wonderland, Metro, Odeon, Cosmos, Serag City Mall, Ramses Hilton, Golden Stars, Tahrir, Galaxy, Normandy, Dream Land, Stars Cinema, City Center, Golf City Cinema, Good News Grand Hyatt, Rehab Cinema, Family Cinema. 

Cast: Khaled El Sawy, Elham Shahen, Mahmoud Kabeel, Salah Abdallah, Gehan Fadel, Tamer Hagras, Ahmed El Saadany. 

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