678 unveils one of Egypt's taboos

Wael Eskandar, Monday 20 Dec 2010

678 is the first Egyptian film to explore the many dimensions of sexual harassment, but perhaps it comes several decades too late

678 Poster
678 Poster, a movie addressing sexual harassment in Egypt

No film in Egypt's recent history has attempted the task of addressing the problem of sexual harassment with as much dedication as 678. Despite the daunting nature of such an ambition, Mohamed Diab's film, for the most part, succeeds in tackling the plethora of challenges that comes with such a monumental task.

 According to a survey conducted by the Centre for Women's Rights (ECWR) in 2008, 98 per cent of foreign-born women and 83 per cent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. 62 per cent of Egyptian men admitted harassing women and 53 per cent of those blame women for instigating this kind of behaviour.

The worst problem in Cairo

A UN representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) working in crisis management pointed out to Ahram Online that having travelled to various countries and encountered different cultures, Cairo was by far the worst place she had been to when it comes to the sexual harassment of women. Despite a failing infrastructure, inefficiency, corruption and myriad other problems, many visitors to Egypt have singled out sexual harassment as the worst problem in Cairo.

These realities have been ignored in recent films. Egypt has undergone numerous changes while films have remained pretty much the same. The result is that films are in no way related to reality and, despite their efforts to discuss many serious issues, they fall short of being taken seriously.  In recent times films like Ehky Ya Shahrazad, Microphone and El Shooq have portrayed life in Egypt with a relative degree of realism. 678 is a recent addition, addressing the terribly-ignored yet troubling topic of sexual harassment.

678 focuses on sexual harassment through the real life stories of three different women. Fayza (Boushra) is a working class woman who finds great difficulty getting to work due to the intolerable amount of sexual harassment she experiences when using public transportation. Seba (Nelly Kareem) is from the elite class but also experiences harassment at a celebration after one of Egypt’s football victories. Nelly (Nahed El Seba’i) is a middle class young woman and is based on the story of Noha Roushdy, who won the first sexual harassment case in 2008.

As we follow the lives of the three women, the harassment becomes more than they can handle. Fayza, having had enough, starts taking matters into her own hands. Maged El Kedwany plays Essam, a cop who is hard on her heels.

Out on a limb

Boushra went out on a limb with her role, almost always without makeup, dressed in loose-fitting clothes and veiled. El Seba’i is well-suited in her part and delivers a solid performance. Nelly Kareem showed a range of emotions, not usual in her previous films. She has challenged herself this time in a role that takes more than just looking pretty and acting romantic. El Kedwany’s portrayal was a pleasant surprise, never too comical despite his comedic history and not overacting to the point of incredulity. His role as a cop possessed the right balance between a member of the police and a family man.

Diab had well-chosen angles for many of his shots and compensated for any lack of experience in directing with careful implementation. The cinematography could have been better, but the music by Hany Adel was well-timed and expressive.

What is impressive about 678 is how accurately sexual harassment is portrayed without undermining the integrity of the problem. One scene from the Canadian film Cairo Timehas attempted such a depiction. The scene lost credibility because of how over the top it was; 678does not make the same mistake. It is a movie written with vengeance and executed with patience, care and dedication.

Sincere and explorative nature

Part of the film’s appeal is its sincere and explorative nature. There is no pretence that the root of the problem is easily identifiable. Despite well-written scenes, where the women play a blame game expressing different views as to why men resort to sexual harassment, there is no solid conclusion. The film presents reality for what it is and does not try to offer an overly simplistic attitude towards dealing with the dilemma. Much of the problem is about the pressures on women in our society to remain silent about the issue for fear of smearing their reputation and that is well alluded to.

Many dimensions are explored in the film along with solutions that have admittedly failed from the film’s perspective. One of the problems is the nonchalance of those in power to change things. This is personified in the character of the policeman who is sympathetic with the women but not overly concerned with how much damage harassment has caused each woman, rendering them incapable of going on with their lives. Solutions such as instilling fear into men through acts of vigilante punishment prove a temporary deterrent to these heinous acts.

Mohamed Diab’s directorial debut makes much use of his strength as a screenplay writer. He brings all the stories together in a natural and not overly-contrived way. He manages to interweave the stories of all three women from diversified social backgrounds and economic conditions, contributing to the effectiveness of the film’s message. The inescapable nature of harassment is daunting, particularly in the case of Seba, where not even exuberant amounts of money could buy her safety.

A couple of decades too late

678 is the first Egyptian film to address sexual harassment candidly. Unfortunately, the movie comes a couple of decades or so too late.   It is now ingrained in Egyptian culture without reproach.  Harassment has become an accepted norm to some and a tool for others, such as the police who have sworn to protect citizens. Without a change in culture and more positive action, this problem doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, but only getting worse.

Starring: Nelly Kareem, Boushra, Nahed El Seba’I, Maged El Kedwany, Basem Samra, Sausan Badr, Ahmed El Fishawy,

Produced by: Boushra; Music: Hany Adel

Written and Directed by: Mohamed Diab

The movie is showing at the following cinemas: Rivoli, Golf City Cinema, Dandy Mall, Tiba, Metro, Bandar Cinema (Maadi), Genena, Renaissance Nile City Cinema, Renaissance 6th of October, Renaissance Downtown, Renaissance Wonderland, Renaissance Cairo Mall, Sheraton, Faten Hamama, Family Cinema

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