Three women and a psychiatrist

Soha Hesham , Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

Soha Hesham saw Amir Ramses’ remake of a 1972 classic

A Nose and Three Eyes

 

Amir Ramses’ new film Anf wa Thalath Oyoun (A Nose and Three Eyes), a new adaptation of the eponymous novel by Ihsan Abdel-Quddous, had its world premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF). By the time it made its way to the Cairo theatres, I had made a point of watching the 1972 version by Hussein Kamal, starring Mahmoud Yassin as the heartthrob doctor at the centre.

Born in 1979, a graduate of the High Institute of Cinema, Ramses was once nostalgically fascinated with the mode in which Kamal’s film was made. In Bi Tawqit Al-Qahira (Cairo Time, 2015), he brought 1970s and 1980s stars like Nour Al-Sherif, Mervat Amin and Samir Sabri together with a younger generation of actors represented by Sherif Ramzi and Ayten Amer. Written by Ramses, the film revolves around three stories that unfold over the course of a single day in Cairo.

The challenge of turning Abdel-Quddous’ novel into a new and gripping film, he approached differently. The story involves Hashem becoming romantically involved with three different women, Amina, Nagwa and Rehab (in Hussein Kamal’s film, played by Magda, Naglaa Fathi and Mervat Amin, respectively). Despite the charming sense of nostalgia surrounding it, I did not enjoy that version at all. Both Magda and Fathi gave bland performances that lacked conviction, with only Amin’s performance breathing some life into the overemphasised romantic overtones and the slow, melodramatic structure.

Benefiting from a powerful screenplay by Wael Hamdi, Ramses’ version, starring Dhafer L’Abidine as Hashem, is thoroughly contemporary, and it emphasises Rehab (played by Salma Abu Deif). Rearranging the appearance of the characters and introducing new twists, this version opens with an unidentified man about to shoot a gun. This later turns out to be a recurring dream of Hashem’s.

Hashem is a plastic surgeon in his mid-forties who turns to a psychiatrist, Aliaa (Saba Mubarak) when he feels unable to deal with his attraction to Rehab, also known by her nickname Rouba, the girl who has started managing his social media accounts, 25 years his junior. A brilliant addition, the character of Alia and the journey she embarks on with Hashem serve to unearth the deeper motives behind Hashem’s perpetual inability to settle down in a long-term relationship.

The major difference between the two films resides in the screen time given to each relationship. That is why Rouba — almost an afterthought in Kamal’s film — becomes so central here. Aliaa suggests that Hashem should write notes about his mother (Gihan Al-Shamashergi) who died aged 32, and his past relationships.

The screenplay also delves into the life of Aliaa herself, incorporating details that are closely intertwined with the events of the story. As a viewer, one can perceive Aliaa as the diametrical opposite of Hashem: a divorced woman with a young son, navigating the complexities of co-parenting with her ex-husband while seemingly leading a vibrant nightlife, frequently visiting pubs and bars. In one scene, after a night at the bar, she wakes up and bluntly tells her boyfriend to dress and leave.

Aliaa believes Hashem might be attracted to Rouba because she resembles his mother. One time, while leaving Aliaa’s office, he is surprised to meet a woman from his past, Nagwa (Amina Khalil), which leads to him to telling Aliaa her story over coffee after working hours. The longest of three relationships in the old film and the novel — with Amina or Amy (Noura She’isha’) — becomes a brief moment in Ramses’ film. Amy spots Hashem with Rouba together and proceeds to confront Rouba with harsh words, warning her that Hashem will eventually use the same excuses to end their relationship and advising her to leave him.

The main line of the story may be the psychiatric journey, however, which peaks when Aliaa suggests that Hashem’s father may have been violent with his mother, and that this may explain the dream of the gunman. This angers Hashem, who storms out.

The ending takes on a somewhat unrealistic turn when Hashem travels to Lebanon to join Rouba during her pre-planned vacation with her mother. Prior to his departure, he has a meeting with Aliaa that completely alters his perspective. Aliaa reveals surprising details about his father, including the fact that he had contemplated suicide. This revelation resolves the recurring dream that has been troubling him. As a result, Hashem’s trip to meet Rouba takes an unexpected turn, leading to their separation. The concluding scenes show Hashem’s interaction with Nagwa, hinting subtly that they might have reconciled, although this was somewhat confusing and lacked coherence.

The performance of Dhafer L’Abidine and Salma Abu Deif was coherent enough for their characters, but Saba Mubarak’s was more uneven. The screenplay sidesteps the comparison trap, raising Ramses’ directorial profile in my view.

Ramses’ latest work was a television series screened on Shahid VIP, Al-Nazwa (The Affair, 2022), starring Khaled Al-Nabawi and Aisha bin Ahmed with a screenplay by Mohamed Al-Hajj. Previously he wrote and directed Hazr Tagawol (Curfew, 2020), starring Elham Shahine, Amina Khalil, and Ahmed Magdi. But his most notable work was his two part documentary Jew of Egypt (2012-2014), a poignant analysis of the 1950s and the massive exodus of the Jewish community in that decade.

 

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