Youth revolt in Microphone

Menna Taher, Saturday 11 Dec 2010

Microphone caused quite a stir at this year’s Cairo International Film Festival. Not only did it win the award for best Arab film, but was commended by several award recipients at the ceremony

Still from the movie Microphone


Microphone is fresh and rebellious, depicting youths who always manage to find a way to create art, despite serious oppression from the state and their families. Artists, who can’t get an exhibition space, use the walls as their canvasses and the all-girl metal band, Mascara, play music despite their parents’ disapproval.

Like Ahmed Abdalla’s debut feature film, Heliopolis, Microphone alternates between documentary and fiction, as it follows two film students Salma (Yousra El Lozy) and Magdy (Ahmed Magdy), who are making a documentary about Alexandria’s budding underground art scene.

Khaled (Khaled Abou El Naga), who has just returned from the US, is also drawn to the underground music scene and tries to help them find a venue to hold a concert after they have been shunned from performing at the National Centre for Arts. The official at the centre deemed the songs presented as too bold in their criticism of the regime and the graffiti on the street as eye pollution to which Khaled replies, “So what about the election posters.  Isn’tthat eye pollution?” This timely retort hit the right spot and received fervent applause during the screening of the film at the CIFF.

Yet despite the opposition the artists faced, the music in the film never stops. It seeps into headphones, studios, apartments and the streets. Music is everywhere, from rap and hip hop, to rock, to more jazzy or oriental tunes.

Massar Egbary, a band also featured in Ibrahim El Batout’s, Hawi, was one of the highlights in the film. Their songs fit both the mood and their lyrics expressed the sentiments of the film’s themes. 

 The playful ever-moving camera mirrors the Alexandrian youths it represents, who are in constant motion roaming about the city on skateboards, running or walking, yet never in cars. The freedom in movement seen in this film is in stark contrast to Heliopolis, with the deadening traffic of Cairo.

Abdalla is quite masterful in depicting a city and its spirit. Along with the stories presented, he weaves footage of the city and its ordinary citizens going about their daily lives.

One interesting story was of a man, who spends the whole day selling cassette tapes, and whose only interlude is adjusting a poster of an election candidate next to his booth. Sometimes he wipes off koshary (a popular Egyptian dish) thrown on it, at other times he decorates it with lights, or draws glasses on the candidate’s face when the lights burn his eyes.

This can be traced to a police officer in Heliopolis whose highlight of the day was stroking a dog and feeding him. The story worked well because of its silent tone, something that Abdalla has mastered.

In telling a story through visuals Abdalla succeeds, it’s only when the script takes dominance, problems occur. The weakest part of the film was the script, which needed more development. Though it was mainly about the Alexandrian artists, it focused on those making the film and their failed love stories, like Khaled’s unrequited love for his past lover, Hadeer (Menna Shalaby) and the relationship between Salma and Magdy.

The film included snippets of a conversation between Khaled and Hadeer, something that didn’t add much to the film. The unnecessary dialogue may have been acceptable. if it had been more interesting.

There was a lot more to the lives of the Alexandrian artists presented that was only mentioned briefly. An elaboration on their lives was much needed. Perhaps if Ahmed Abdalla had listened to Salma when she told Magdy, “the film is not about us,” while shooting her for their documentary, this pitfall wouldn’t have occurred.

Yet the film’s deficiency in presenting a comprehensive storyline didn’t affect the film’s purpose, the dire need to rebel and find ways out despite restraints. The youths in the film would wear masks to stay anonymous musicians or jump out of a window aided by friends to escape unpleasant situations at home. It’s this spirit that complements the film.

Microphone will be commercially screened in cinemas. 


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