A gently paced family film, Photocopy features veteran actor Mahmoud Hemeida as a man from a bygone era who doesn't feel the need to change his ancient ways, until modernity creeps into his life and he refuses to become a "dinosaur".
Photocopy screened twice at the first Gouna Film Festival, winning a Gouna Star for Best Arab Feature Narrative at the award ceremony held on 29 September.
During its second screening on 27 September the hall was fully booked, with film directors, actors and movie enthusiasts all keen to see one of two Egyptian films competing at the festival.
Directed by Tamer El-Ashry, written by Haitham Dabbour, and featuring Hemeida alongside Sherin Reda, Ali Tayeb, Ahmed Dash, Farah Yousef and Bayoumi Fouad, the film was a big hit with the audience, as apparent from the spontaneous applause at the end.
Photocopy’s cast and crew were present for a post-screening discussion that further revealed the positive reception from the audience.
The cast and crew were congratulated on a "beautiful and classy film that captures the good part of Egypt” and for making a film “that all members of the family can enjoy, without worrying about what our children are exposed to.”
A warm palette
The plot centers on two main characters: Mahmoud Photocopy, an elderly man who runs an ancient photocopying shop; and his neighbor Safeya who is struggling with health problems and an estranged son.
Wearing a bewildered expression, Mahmoud struggles to keep up with the times. He comes across a client’s paper on the extinction of dinosaurs and finds that he relates to the long-gone species and their failure to adapt to their new environment.
Photocopy unfolds with a warm palette at a slow pace, which matches its subject matter and nostalgic sentiments.
“The film is about fading, and fading takes time. You have to see the fade-out and its stages," scriptwriter Haitham Dabbour told Ahram Online. "Mahmoud, though aging, is in good health, but he has a sense of fading. His job is disappearing, and he feels that if he dies no one will remember him."
In Dabbour’s own words, the film is a "slice of Mahmoud’s life" and the characters that inhabit it, capturing him in a moment when he decides to make changes in his stale life.
“From the start we are telling the audience what type of film this is; it’s a calm film that invites you to meditate and think of these moments," he adds.
The film is both poignant and funny, simultaneously poking fun at the past and the present, while appreciating aspects from both eras.
This slowness is welcome in an age of increasing rapidity and short attention spans, although several scenes seem unnecessarily elongated, risking a loss of the momentum needed to keep an audience engaged.
From an international-cinema perspective, the film may not be revolutionary in terms of subject matter or treatment. However, for the Egyptian film scene it is a subject seldom given that much screen time, with nostalgia and beautiful cinematography carrying the scenes.
Amir Ramses, a renowned young Egyptian film director and a board member of the festival, while leading the discussion with the filmmakers, asked the producer what motivated him to support the film.
“I felt it had a cinematic genre that we don’t have, and there is a place for it,” Safy El-Din Mahmoud, head of Red Star productions said.
The filmmakers added layers to the film through various metaphors embedded in the scenes. Aside from the clear metaphor of dinosaurs becoming extinct, there is one scene in which Mahmoud’s name on the shop sign is erased by a splash of bright pink paint, a shade chosen by the landlord for renovating the old building.
The bubble-gum-pink paint on the 19th and early 20th century architecture is tragic enough. To have it drip on the sign’s olive palette and clash with the store-front’s warm tones adds salt to the wound, marking a point in the story where Mahmoud can no longer keep the changing world at bay.
Director Tamer Ashry and produdcer Safy El-Din Mahmoud receiving the Gouna Star award for Photocopy at the Gouna Film Festival award ceremony (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
Strong supporting cast
As Mahmoud and Safeya find solace in each other’s company, the film gently maps out their interactions with colorful supporting characters: Ahmed Dash as the young street-talking porter, Ali Tayeb as the owner of the neighboring cyber café, Bayoumi Fouad as the impatient landlord, and Farah Yousef as the soft-tempered pharmacist across the street.
All give memorable and engaging performances that shape the film, without which it might have been somewhat flat.
Dash possibly steals the show in his role as the porter Adelaziz, fluently capturing the spirit of the street with humour and flair.
He was asked by one audience member how he prepared for such a role, which is so different from his own character and his previous roles.
“My point of reference was the streets and watching similar characters, although I didn’t speak with anyone in order to prepare for the role,” Dash said.
The budding actor added that he received the script at a time when he was attending an acting workshop and was very keen to get to work on it.
He was not overshadowed by the stardom of Hemeida, whose stature and charisma is undeniable, both on and off-screen.
In response to Ramsis’ question on what attracted him to the film, Hemeida said he is always open to working with new and young filmmakers, noting that the film is Ashry and Dabbour’s feature-film debut, though both have notable experience in other genres.
"I’m never afraid of working with young talents, nor do I work with them merely to encourage them. But rather, I’m excited to see new things through them that I wouldn’t see on my own and to learn from their perspectives,” the star said.
Regarding the script, Dabbour talked about how it developed from its initial drafts.
“I like to think of the scenario as an incomplete work of literature. Everyone plays a part in adding to it and making it what it is,” the writer said.
An oeuvre of experiments
After the comments from the audience on the film’s appeal to different generations, Dabbour told Ahram Online that he doesn’t write scripts with a target audience in mind, but rather tries to produce a film “that can live”.
“What concerns me is if this film, when it's viewed in the cinema or on television, will be loved by people or not. Films are like songs; their audiences change over the years," he said.
"The Return of the Prodigal Son is a film we only love when we are older, the same way people start to appreciate Um Kalthoum’s songs later in life. I started to understand her songs and the nature of this type of art later in life," Dabbour continued.
"Ultimately, we remember the good films that stood the test of time, not caring how much they made in the box office."
Dabbour's wide-angled view of art is reflected in his tendency to write for a range of genres, rather than sticking to just one.
"I write cinema because I like experimenting," he said. "I want to present things that after many years people can say that I had a 'project', in the same way that we view other renowned directors’ works – Waheed Hamed or Osama Anwar Okasha or others – we look at their project not at individual films.”
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