Asser Yassin and Ibrahim El Samman in Saheb Al Maqam (2020)
The film Saheb Al-Maqam (The Enshrined Saint) addresses viewers fond of social dramas with a human and spiritual flavour. Unfortunately, these fans are not going to be satisfied.
The third feature film directed by Mohamad Gamal Al-Adl (known as Mando Al-Adl), Saheb Al-Maqam recounts the bright life of a family faced with a lack of ethics and human values. They find themselves in an increasingly violent and materialistic society where little importance is placed on morals.
Young architect and businessman Yahya, played by Asser Yassin, decides to demolish a maqam (mausoleum) dedicated to a saint. He wants to do so in order to build a touristic site in its place. However, a series of developments begin to turn his life upside down. He undertakes to do a lot of charitable deeds as self-penance. He is guided by a mysterious lady called Roh, who has dedicated her life to charitable acts, with the aim of finding peace and serenity.
Despite its traditional undertones, the film's idea is quite interesting. However, due to a simplistic and very flat approach in its realisation, these attractive aspects get lost as the action progresses. The plot quickly plunges into the overly explanatory.
Based on a screenplay by the well-known writer and journalist Ibrahim Eissa, the film mixes social themes with far-fetched moral lessons, while leaving viewers wanting for more on both the artistic and dramatic levels.
Approximately 50 minutes long, the film seeks to create a sense of suspense through superficial adventures, so much so that it is difficult to understand where it wants to take us. The main idea is filled with clichés and déjà vu. Two fairly well-known works immediately come to mind when watching this film: Al-Leila Al-Kebira (The Big Night), presenting the commemoration of a saint in a festive, spiritual and popular atmosphere, and Helm Aziz (Aziz's Dream), focusing on the idea of self-penance and atonement for sins as way of escaping a curse.
Saheb Al-Maqam is a series of chained stories where several characters emerge, each carrying a plot. The author fell into the trap of presenting the events slowly and monotonously. As a result the film failed to defend or adequately shed light on many themes. Equally, the suspense runs out of steam as the whole work lacks depth and energy at all levels.
On the production side, the director, who has already his own signature in the field, did not deliver his best work. Mando Al-Adl has already shot successful films including Al-Kibar and Al-Badla as well as successful television dramas including Al-Daeya (The Preacher) and Haret Al-Yahoud (The Jews' Alley). However, in Saheb Al-Maqam, the director did not add anything that would really appeal to viewers. His shots are often enveloping, the camera direction well designed and the camera angles well-researched. However, it all lacks flavour.
It is a bit disapointing putting into consideration the film's cast, which consists of superstars Asser Yassin, Youssra, Amina Khalil, among others, all of whom delivered clichéd performances, with neither major downsides nor nice surprises.
*This article was originally published in French in the 23 September 2020 issue of Al-Ahram Hebdo.
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