The Covid-19 pandemic negatively impacted film production on the local as much as the international front. Some film festivals were cancelled, others were postponed others still became online-only events. More recently as the market struggles to regain its footing and the world returns to normality, Egyptian cinema is making a slow but brave comeback.
This Eid Al-Adha started a little early, ahead of the Eid itself, with several new releases: Mesh Ana (Not Me) starring pop singer Tamer Hosni alongside Hala Shiha and Maged Al-Kedwani, and directed by Sarah Wafik; Al-Aref (The Seer), starring Ahmed Ezz, Ahmed Fahmi and Karmen Beseibas, and directed by Ahmed Alaa Al-Deeb; and two comedy productions by director Mahmoud Karim: Mama Hamel (Mama is Pregnant), starring Laila Elwi and Bayoumi Fouad; and (released long before the start of the season) Ahmed Notre Dame, starring Ramez Galal, Ghada Adel, Bayoumi Fouad and Khaled Al-Sawi. Another significant production was the comedian Karim Abdel-Aziz vehicle Al-Baad La Yazhab Lel Maazoun Maratien (Some Never Revisit the Marriage Officiant).
The film recalls the 1978 Al-Baad Yazhab Lel Maazoun Maratein (Some Revisit the Marriage Officiant), directed by Abdel-Aziz’s father Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, in Karim appears as a child. It brought together a remarkable host of stars including superstar comedians Adel Imam and Samir Ghanem, George Sidhom, Lebleba, as well as movie stars Nour Al-Sherif and Mervat Amin.
Featuring several couples, it is a hilarious take on stock marriage problems: jealousy, infidelity, and parenting. It is a genre that had been popular for decades before this film was made. Hamaty Malak (My Mother-in-Law is an Angel, 1959), starring Marry Moneib and Ismail Yassin and directed by Eissa Karama and Merati Modeir Aam (My Wife is a General Manager, 1966), starring Shadia and Salah Zulfakar, directed by Fatin Abdel-Wahab are among the most popular examples.
Later, in the 1970s and the 1980s, another wave of matrimonial comedies by the Abdel-Aziz family emerged. There were two director brothers, Omar as well as Mohamed, and they had a unique sense of humour all their own. Their work includes such classics as Omar’s Yarab Walad (A Boy Child, Amen, 1984), starring Farid Shawki, Karima Mukhtar, Samir Ghanem, Dalal Abdel-Aziz, Ahmed Rateb and Issad Younis; Omar’s Al-Shaqa Min Haq Al-Zouga (The Wife Gets the Apartment, 1985), starring Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz and Maali Zayed; and Mohamed’s Khali Balak Min Geranak (Take Care of your Neighbours, 1979), starring Fouad Al-Mohandes, Adel Imam, Lebleba and Madiha Youssri.
Written by Ayman Watter and directed by Ahmed Al-Guindi, the new film obviously draws on the old for its title, but it has no connection with it whatsoever. It’s the story of Khaled (Karim Abdel-Aziz), a famous TV host who is married to Thoraya (Dina El-Sherbini), a marriage and relationship expert. They have grown distant as Khaled makes fun of Thoraya’s job and refuses to read her new book even when she asks him to; she too has no interest in his show and fails to watch it, though.
Khaled meets with Anis (Maged Al-Kedwani), Thoraya’s brother and Khaled’s old friend who happens to be a divorce lawyer, and tells him he would like to divorce his sister; Anis takes the news very coldly and is wholly professional about it. For work Khaled visits the country’s marriage register and while answering Thoraya’s call on his mobile phone ends up causing the entire system to collapse. That evening he appears on television to announce that, with no official records, all married couples in Egypt are now practically unmarried; and all kinds of hilarious situations come up. First, Khaled himself arrives at home to find his wife has set up a room downstairs for him to sleep in a started to separate her things from his.
The screenplay has a lot of weak points like the unexplained character played by Bayoumi Fouad, supposedly a government official whose job it is to bring Khaled and Thoraya happily back together so they can serve as a role model for married couples across the country. Incidents include the kidnapping of Thoraya, and the appearance in court of pop star Mustafa Qamar, one of many cameos. Qamar plays himself in the course of a divorce settlement. His wife, who aims for half his fortune, is represented by Anis who plays Qamar songs as evidence. The charismatic performances of Abdel-Aziz and Al-Kedwani, and the rapport they often show on screen, are probably the film’s strongest point.
Abdel-Aziz is one of the best actors of his generation, able to juggle genres. A graduate of the Higher Cinema Institute, where he studied filmmaking, he had been a child actor in, among other films, his father’s Entabho Ayoha Al-Sadda (Attention, Gentlemen, 1978), featuring Mahmoud Yassin, Hussein Fahmi and Nahed Al-Sherif and Samir Seif’s Al-Mashbouh (The Suspect, 1981) with Adel Imam, Soad Hosni and Said Saleh.
His first adult role was opposite the late, legendary actor Ahmed Zaki in Edhak Al-Soura Tetlaa Hilwa (Laugh, the Photo May Look Nicer, 1998) starring Mona Zaki, along with the late Ezzat Abu-Ouf and Sanaa Gamil, both brilliant actors. In the same year he appeared in a Ramadan TV series, Emraa Min Zaman Al-Hob (A Woman from the Time of Love), starring Samira Ahmed, Youssef Shaaban, Abla Kamel, Yasmine Abdel-Aziz and Mohamed Riad, written by Osama Anwar Okasha and directed by Ismail Abdel-Hafez. He made a strong impression then.
Abdel-Aziz has since starred in Sandra Nashaat’s Lih Khalitni Ahbak (Why Did I Fall for You, 2000), starring Mona Zaki, Hala Shiha and Ahmed Helmi; as well as Nashaat’s Haramya fi KG 2 (KG 2 Thieves, 2001), starring Hanan Turk and Maged Al-Kedwani, and its sequel Haramya Fi Thailand (Thieves in Thailand, 2003); Ihsan’s Al-Basha Telmiz (The Student Cop, 2004) with Ghada Adel; and Ahmed Nader Galal’s two films Abu Ali (2005) with Mona Zaki and Wahed Min Al-Nas (One of the People, 2006) with Menna Shalabi.
But as well as action and comedy, he demonstrated dramatic prowess in 2014 when he played the lead in Marwan Hamed’s Al-Feil Al-Azrak (The Blue Elephant), also starring Khaled Al-Sawi and Nelly Karim. As Yehya, a psychiatrist who returns to work to handle a strange murder after a five-year suspension, he excelled. Abdel-Aziz played the same role in the film’s 2019 sequel. In the same year, he also starred in Khaled Al-Halafawi’s comedy Nadi Al-Regal Al-Serri (Men’s Secret Club), along with Ghada Adel and Maged Al-Kedwani. His latest work was a television series last Ramadan, Al-Ikhtiyar II, directed by Peter Mimi and featuring Ahmed Mekki, Eiyad Nassar, Boushra and Injy Al-Mokadem.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly