Divorce night

Soha Hesham , Sunday 27 Aug 2023

Wesh fi Wesh (Face to Face), the latest romcom to grace Egyptian cinemas.

Behind the scenes with the director of Wesh fi Wesh
Behind the scenes with the director of Wesh fi Wesh


Watching the trailer of the film Wesh fi Wesh, directed by Walid Al-Halafawy — who happens to be the son of actor Nabil Al-Halafawy — I was reminded of the Ramadan TV series Al-Harsha Al-Sabaa (The Seventh Itch). I went to the movie theatre with the impression that it might be more of the same, or at least unpleasantly reminiscent, since the two works practically share a cast. I was delighted when my expectations were crushed: Face to Face turned out to be a witty and hilarious social drama, the kind of romantic comedy that Egyptian commercial cinema has long been missing.

From the first few minutes of the two-hour experience, the viewer is immersed in an amusing social commentary which takes on numerous challenges and manages to overcome them in an intelligent way. This is the second big screen feature by Al-Halafawy after Ali Baba (2018) starring Karim Fahmy, Ayten Amer, Mohamed Tharwat and Sabry Fawaz. He has since directed two TV series: Super Miro (2019) and Fi Baytina Robot (A Robot in Our House, 2021).

The opening scene shows Wael (Mohamed Shahin) speeding as he drives to some evident emergency while on the phone. He reaches his destination to find his friends gathered in the street at the entrance to the building where the emergency is taking place: the apartment of Sherif (Mohamed Mamdouh), a member of this gang of friends. They persuade Wael to go upstairs to find out more about Sherif’s marital quarrel with his wife Dalia (Amina Khalil). From this point on all the action takes place inside that couple’s house. It hardly needs stating that the marital quarrel will snowball, involving more and more characters as husband and wife find themselves surrounded by all their family members and friends, until a climax is reached…

A single, indoor setting is among the most difficult choices in cinema,  whether dramatically or visually. But the screenplay co-written by Al-Halafawy and Shady Al-Ramli — the son of the late stage director Lenin Al-Ramli — brilliantly capitalises on the claustrophobia, living up to the challenge by generating many compelling sub-plots around the clever driving force of the drama:

When Wael rushes upstairs to Dalia and Sherif’s apartment, we are introduced to the characters. Wael first meets Dalia’s brother (Ahmed Khaled Saleh) at the entrance and a huge fight breaks out between them. We are then introduced to Sherif’s parents: Aziz (Bayoumi Fouad) and Zeinab (Salwa Mohamed Ali), sitting on the roof of the building discussing the situation of their son and his problem with his wife. The camera pans into the house where Dalia’s parents — Enaam (Anoushka) and Mohab (Sami Maghawri) — are arguing over how their daughter’s divorce will proceed and negotiating with each other as they plan to call their lawyer. Mohab is a weak character controlled by his wife Enaam, which creates an important element of laughter alongside the dark side of the story and what lies beneath the plot and at the core of that relationship between this couple.  

In another corner of the house, Dalia’s friend Salma (Asmaa Galal), an attractive woman to whom Wael has been attracted, having met her before, and is now trying to initiate a conversation with despite the hard times is pushing Dalia to speed up the divorce; Dalia will later accuse her of having been in love with Sherif since they were all at university together.

When the metal lock on the door breaks and everyone is trapped in the house, Sherif’s friend Magdi (Khaled Kamal) manages to enter by climbing up through the apartment of the downstairs neighbour in the middle of all these clashes and complications. He thinks he is supporting his friend, but his presence makes everyone uncomfortable and everything worse. This in itself is a brilliant device to generate comedy and create subplots.

One small, extremely intelligent detail that the screenplay proffers with the help of unorthodox editing is that when the quarrel is recounted, the same scene is repeated to reflect Dalia’s side of the story, then Sherif’s.

Another significant duo is the maid Shaimaa (Donia Samy) and the driver Sayed Al-Kahoul (Mahmoud Al-Leithy) who are both locked up with the family and friends, and serve to represent class conflict which surfaces when Shaimaa accidently drinks a blend prepared by Kahoul which contains some kind of drug; high, Shaimaa’s uninhibited interventions results in a whole new level of sarcasm as she tackles all kinds of social and religious differences.  

Khaled Al-Sawy and Lotfy Labib make great cameos as the husband and wife’s respective lawyers, appearing only in a virtual confrontation on two iPads facing each other where they engage in a huge, scandalous fight that strays hilariously far from the issue at hand.

Towards the end of the film there resolutions are made by the two families, whose confinement together has calmed them somewhat, especially once they realise they must spend the whole night together locked in the house till morning when someone can be found to fix the door. Mohab has a long and sincere conversation with his son in law, a mix of serious and sarcastic talk, in the course of which he is forced to confront his weak character and how he constantly gives in to his controlling wife though it won’t be until the end of the film that he liberates himself by divorcing her in front of everyone.

In reaction Enaam goes hysterical and starts a fire on the roof, prompting the firemen to come and let them out of the house, but unfortunately the situation goes out of control in the meantime.

Morning comes, the door is opened, and everyone leaves before the situation between Dalia and Sherif has been resolved. It is unclear whether they will continue with their relationship or not, now that their families and friends’ involvement has brought their problem to the attention of social media, since Enaam posted about it prompting the whole extended family to voice their opinions in a supposedly private affair.

Face to Face manages to raise many issues around social conflict, generational and class differences with the help of a tight, witty screenplay that, despite being eminently entertaining, tackles real, serious problems, analysing all kinds of social issues with originality and humour, and benefiting from convincing, spontaneous performances.

The film has been a box office hit. It is competing with the new Mohamed Heneidi vehicle Marie Al-Brimo, directed by Said Hamed, the new Mohamed Ramadan vehicle Aal Zero (Brand New), directed by Mohamed Gamal Al-Adl as well as Khamas Gawalat (Five Rounds), directed by Mazen Ashraf and starring Maged Al-Masri, Al-Amil Sefr (Agent Zero), directed by Karim Al-Adl and starring Akram Hosni, and Essam Nasser’s Al-Batta Al-Safra (The Yellow Duck.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 24 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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