On hearing of a low budget film like Alaa El-Sherif’s debut Al-Almani (“the German”), some might think they’re in for the kind of film for which Khaled Youssef became famous, like Heena Mayssara (Till Further Notice) or Marwan Hamed’s Ibrahim Al-Abyad (starring Ahmed El-Saqqa): a film about slums with an overt political message. But this is very far from the issue of thuggery that El-Sherif raises in the form of an extended flashback.
Al-Almanifeatures Mohamed Ramadan, Rania El-Malah, Ahmed Bedeir and Aida Riyad; and there is a story behind its title: as a child working at a small mechanic’s, Shahine (Ramdan), the protagonist, had excelled so much his boss nicknamed him the German in reference to the German automobile industry. Al-Almani continues to work as a mechanic to provide for his mother (Riyad) until she is beaten up by thugs hired by her neighbour, with whom she has a fight over her commission out of her pay for letting unmarried pregnant women give birth at her house. It is then that the first brutal scene occurs: said neighbour is stopped by Al-Almani and forced to hand over his leather jacket; when he refuses to hand over his mobile phone he is killed.
After the avant-titre scene ended, the viewer realises it was a video within the film – for airing on TV. A rather absurd development: it turns out to be a ploy by one of the assistant directors intended to locate the killer’s mother, who is given money to help Al-Almani escape on finally reaching the studio where she tells the presenter the story of her son.
Ramadan’s performance was similar to the late Egyptian legend Ahmed Zaki, which is why he played his character in the 2006 Ramadan TV drama Cinderella starring Mona Zaki as the late icon Soad Hosni and directed by Samir Seif. He seems to be locked in the role.
Whether the film attempts to present Al-Alamni as a victim or a criminal, it lacked depth: there aren’t enough motives, character traits, even techniques (he is given a soliloquy of his own while his mother speaks to the presenter, whose own commentary results in a hilarious exchange) to make the film convincing.
After Shahine becomes famous for his violence against people in his neighbourhood, he starts to make a lot of money selling Chinese made motorcycles and gas cylinders at a huge profit with the help of his two best friends. There is the inevitable presentation of the negative and seedy aspects of the neighbourhood: the bordello he visits, the girl-next-door he loves, the drug dealing.
A challenging debut for El-Sherif, the film definitely has character, but it fails to present a solid enough work of art to be worthy of the silver screen.
The film is showing at: CineMax, Diana, Dream, Golf City, Ramses Hilton, Stars and Wonderland