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A glimpse at 42nd Cairo Int'l Film Festival's winning films

Below are chosen films with their reviews as published by the 42nd Cairo International Film Festival's Daily Bulletin

Ahram Online , Thursday 17 Dec 2020

International Competition

Limbo (UK)
Written and directed by Ben Sharrock
Winner of the Golden Pyramid Award for Best Film, Henry Barakat Award for Best Artistic Contribution and The FIPRESCI Award

“The British comedy-drama Limbo focuses mostly on Omar (Amir El-Masry), a young Syrian refugee tormented by homesickness and sadness. He wanders the roads of a Scottish town carrying his oud. Omar’s three roommates are also refugees: Wasef (Ola Orebiyi), Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) and Farhad (Vikash Bhai). With their different approaches to life and different dreams, each of the four men has plans and ambitions and each is faced with a fearful uncertainty about the future. Despair, jail, and even death might be waiting for them, and the film leaves no clue about what is going to unfold.” – Mazen Fawzy


Conference (Russia)
Written and directed by Ivan I. Tverdovskiy
Winner of the Silver Pyramid, Special Jury Award for Best Director and Best Actress Award for Natalya Pavlenkova

“Conference sheds light on Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova), a mother that lived through the hostage crisis of the Dubrovka Theatre Centre (Moscow), an incident known as the 2002 Nord-Ost siege. The attack involved over 40 armed Chechens and 850 hostages, and led to the death of over 170 people. Director Tverdovskiy created unconventional shots that put the audience in a state of confusion so we can feel exactly what the survivors did: their pain and anguish. Pavlenkova was able to portray many different shades of sad emotions as the heartbroken mother who has to live through a very grim reality.” – Donia Mounir


Lift Like a Girl (Egypt)
Directed by Mayye Zayed
Winner of the Bronze Pyramid Award for Best First or Second Work, Youssef Cherif Rizkallah Award (Audience Award) and ISIS Award for best Egyptian film to show the economic and social emancipation of women

“The documentary film delves into the lives of female weightlifters in Alexandria, Egypt. In one of the city’s little-known corners, Captain Ramadan has been training world-class weightlifters for over twenty years. Among them are his daughter Nahla Ramadan, world weightlifting champion and one of Egypt’s most famous athletes; and Abeer Abdel Rahman, first Arab woman to become a two-time Olympic medalist. The film chronicles the tumultuous ups and downs of Zebiba (Asmaa Ramadan)’s personal and athletic growth over the years, as well as her unique and complex bond with her mentor. Zayed captures the hardships, tears, losses and victories punctuating the young athlete’s life, as Captain Ramadan pushes her farther along the path to greatness.” – Amina Abdel-Halim

Lift Like a Girl
Lift Like a Girl

50 or Two Whales Meet at the Beach (Italy)
Written and directed by Jorge Cuchí
Winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Award for Best Screenplay

“Jose Cuchi’s directorial debut is a troubling exploration of the dark underbelly of adolescence. The cinematography splendidly conveys the often morose hues of teenage life. At the start of the film, each character is introduced separately, entrapped in their own worlds away from the watchful eyes of their guardians. A match cut carries viewers from a close-up of Felix, who films himself setting fire to a car in a back alley; to Elisa, who drinks liquor from a bottle stashed away in her closet.” Amina Abdel-Halim

50 or Two Whales Meet at the Beach
50 or Two Whales Meet at the Beach

German Lessons (Bulgaria)
Winner of Best Actor Award: Julian Vergov
Directed by Pavel G. Vesnakov

“Pavel Vesnakov’s film is a painfully sincere gaze into the life of a Bulgarian ex-convict. It follows Nikola (Julian Vergov)’s painful journey towards redemption, as he tries to make amends with his loved ones a day before leaving his home country for Germany. The heart of Vesnakov’s film lies in a simple truth: Nikola may no longer be behind bars, but like all ex-convicts, the character remains a prisoner of his past wrongdoings.” – Amina Abdel-Halim

German Lessons
German Lessons

The Horizons of New Arab Cinema Competition Awards

The Tambour of Retribution (KSA)
Directed by Abdulaziz Al Shelahi
Winner of Salah Abu Seif Award for Best Artistic Contribution.and Best Acting Performance Award: Faisal Al-Dokhi 

“The Tambour of Retribution or ‘Had El Tar’ in Arabic is an expression that combines the two different sides of a forbidden love story in 1999 conservative Riyadh, between Dayel (Faisl Al-Dokhy) the son of an executioner and a swordsman who is supposed to follow his father’s footsteps, and Shamah (Adwa Fahd) the daughter of a wedding singer. The love story in the film is forbidden for many reasons but mainly because an executioner is respected in the same society that looks down on wedding singers. The irony between death and celebrating a new life raises a lot of questions, about how much they are willing to sacrifice for each other.” – Mona Sheded 

The Tambour of Retribution
The Tambour of Retribution

We Are from There (Lebanon, France)
Directed by Wissam Tanios
Winner of the Best Non-Fiction Film Award and the CIFF Cash Award for Best Arab Film

“A documentary We Are From There depicts two Syrian brothers’ departure from their home. Shot over five years, Tanios’s film does not merely record their separate journeys to Europe, but questions their, and in the process his own, identity and relationship to a shared childhood. Through observation, interviews, archival footage and diary-like entries, the film seeks to answer the question implied in its title: who is ‘we’ and where is ‘there’? Archival footage of the boys growing updraws parallels between past and present. However, this continuity between past and present is only illusory because it is fabricated by the film. The seemingly coherent identities become fragmented.” – Aida Youssef 

We Are from There
We Are from There

The Fall of Apple Trees (Morocco)
Directed by Mohamed Moftakir
Winner of Special Mention

“Mohamed Mouftakir’s The Fall of Apple Trees adopts a young boy’s meditative point of view as he seeks to learn the truth about his parents. Having never met his mother and disowned by his father, Sliman is brought up by his paternal grandparents in a small unnamed village. In the courtyard of their home stands an apple tree around which the boy’s, and by extension our, focus revolves. Sin becomes a recurring theme throughout the film. The apple tree represents the original sin, and the characters’ relationship to it is revelatory of their nature. Sliman is obsessed with the tree…” – Aida Youssef

The Fall of Apple Trees
The Fall of Apple Trees

International Critics’ Week Competition Awards

The Best Is Yet to Come (China)
Directed by Jing Wang
Winner of Shadi Abdel Salam Award for Best Film (awarded to the director)

“In The Best Is Yet to Come (Bu zhi bu xiu), a young self-taught writer Han Dong (Bai-Ke) flees from his provincial town together with his girlfriend Xiao Zhu (Miao Miao) to the competitive and crowded Beijing to make a career as a reporter. The story would seem a bit unbelievable had it not been based on the life of Han Fudong, former chief reporter of the Southern Metropolis Daily, who covered the topic of Hepatitis B and its carriers during the 2000s. Addressing the issues of discrimination and stigma on medical grounds back in 2003, The Best Is Yet to Come somewhat reminds us of the current pandemic and suggests to contemplate on the role an individual can play in events affecting large numbers of people.” – Maria K. 

The Best Is Yet to Come
The Best Is Yet to Come

Gold (Netherlands)
Directed by Roger Hesp
Winner of Fathy Farag Award for Best Artistic Contribution

"In the Dutch drama titled Goud (Gold), Timo (David Wristers) is claimed by gymnastics since before he was born: the son of two professional athletes, he is an extension of their ambitions and aspirations for the future. By genre, Gold is a classic coming-of-age story, following a long tradition in literature and film. Setting it in sports scenery provides the opportunity to express feelings, tensions and thoughts through physical acting rather than dialogue. We see an unusual focus on uncovered male body on screen: old and young, feeble and fresh, in physical effort and in sensual exploration." Maria K.


CIFF Cash Awards

Along The Sea (Japan, Vietnam)
Directed by Fujimoto Akio
Winner of an award for best film dealing with human trafficking issues

"The film follows the life of three young girls from Vietnam who land up in Japan as illegal migrant workers, sorting fish in the tough environment of the snow area by the sea. Still in their twenties, they demonstrate remarkable resilience, humility, courage and quiet self-sacrifice on their mission to support their families back home and maybe - one day - to earn better lives for themselves. In this rare cinematic collaboration between Japan and Vietnam social problems such as migrant labour and Japan’s ageing demographics are explored on personal level. The drama is kept low-key without direct tragedy; at some point it becomes clear that the depicted hardship actually is the better lot the heroines have chosen for themselves out of all available options." - Maria K.

Along The Sea
Along The Sea

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