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Bitter-sweet critique

By Ramadan A. Kader

When it first hit the cinema screens in 2010, the comedy “Assal Eswed” (Black Honey) received mixed reactions. The film, starring comedian Ahmed Helmy, provides a view of an Egyptian-born American of his homeland that he left when he was a child. While some critics praised the picture as balanced and realistic, others panned it as unfair to the country and its image.

All the same, “Assal Eswed” was released to the general public without much hassle from censors and proved a box-office hit.

Directed by Khaled Mar’ei and based on a screenplay by Khaled Diab, the film tells the story of Masry Sayed (Egyptian the master), an Egyptian-US citizen, who returns to the homeland after his father’s death.

The protagonist, played by Helmy, is eager to revive his links with the motherland and capture its magic with the lens of his camera as a photographer. But a series of misfortunes he experiences since the minute he lands at the airport reshapes his idealistic expectations and brings him down to the earth and to the Egyptian realities.

He is conned by the driver who transports him from the airport to a Nile-side hotel. Traffic pandemonium and favouritism disappoint him. A horse owner, serving foreign tourists at the Pyramids, cheats him after he learns that he is originally an Egyptian.
Masry reaches the conclusion that foreigners receive better treatment in Egypt than natives.

He loses his US passport when attacked by angry demonstrators in an anti-Washington protest. The incident puts an end to the preferential treatment he received as a foreigner at the hotel.

His predicament deepens when in a fit of anger he flings away his Egyptian passport. Therefore, he is stranded in his homeland, which he desperately wants to leave for the US.

In his hectic attempt to get a new US passport, the protagonist wades through Egypt’s legendary red tape. Sensitive issues such as poor standards of education and transportation, bribery, unemployment as well as police abuses are featured sometimes in a manner that verges on black comedy.

The subtle criticism of the Egyptian lifestyle is convincingly counter-balanced, though. This happens when Masry rejoins his childhood friend Said and his family. Life with them proves an eye-opening experience for the disenchanted US citizen. They accommodate him until his father’s neighbouring long-neglected apartment is overhauled. Said’s family helps the protagonist to put his life in order and learns firsthand about the ordinary Egyptians’ life.

They suffer economically, but are socially interdependent. The bright (honey-like) side of the Egyptian life unfolds on such occasions as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan when Masry shares his hosts their sunset and pre-dawn meals. Mawaed el-Rahman, or Ramadan’s characteristic charity street banquets, are presented, boosting this feel – good factor.

On Eid al-Fitr, which follows Ramadan, his friend’s caring mother gives him a cash gift, an Egyptian age-old hallmark of celebrating the annual event. A sense of community is unmistakable in locals’ relations. They exchange sweet dishes in Ramadan. Said gives a lift to his neighbour’s schoolgirl on his rickety motorbike.

Having obtained a new US passport, the hero packs up to leave Egypt for the US. Minutes after his take-off, he changes his mind and decides to stay in Egypt and relishes its bitter-sweet life.

Eight years after its public screening, “Assal Eswed” is remembered for its theme song “There’s Something Sweet About It”. Composed by celebrated musician Omar Khayrat, the song has amounted to an informal national anthem.

Both the film and the song lyrics rediscover merits of the Egyptian way of living that are concealed under the surface of harsh realities. It’s one whole package. It has a taste of honey, which may be black in colour.



LOS ANGELES, May 5, 2018 — For John Travolta, "icon" will be the word at the Cannes Film Festival.

Trade publication Variety said Friday that Travolta will receive its inaugural Cinema Icon Award at this month's festival in France.

Steven Gaydos, Variety vice president and executive editor, said in a statement that Travolta's long career, popularity and honours "splendidly qualify" him for the recognition.

Travolta received an Oscar nomination for his star-making turn in 1977's "Saturday Night Fever" and another for 1994's "Pulp Fiction."

"Grease," released in 1978 and starring Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, is among the biggest movie musical hits ever.

Travolta will receive the Cinema Icon Award on May 15, following the premiere at Cannes of his new film, "Gotti."

Pitbull, who composed the film's score, will perform at the award event.

RIYADH, April, 19, 2018 - Saudi Arabia launched its first commercial movie theater, ending a nearly 40-year ban on cinemas under a push by the crown prince to modernize the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

A red carpet invitation-only gala event attracted senior government officials, foreign dignitaries and select industry figures to watch Marvel’s superhero movie “Black Panther” on a 45-foot screen at a converted symphony concert hall in Riyadh.

 “Saudis now are going to be able to go to a beautiful theater and watch movies the way they’re supposed to be watched: on a big screen,” Adam Aron, chief executive of operator AMC Entertainment Holdings, told Reuters ahead of the screening.

The smell of buttery popcorn filled the air as confetti rained down through the multi-story atrium where Aron and Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad al-Awwad announced the launch and proceeded into the 450-seat hall.

The opening marks another milestone for reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to open the country culturally and diversify the economy of the world’s top oil exporter.

NEW YORK 18th April, 2018 - Comedian Amy Schumer has made a name for herself with her sharp wit and self-deprecating observations.

But Schumer, 33, says people have got the wrong idea about her new romantic comedy “I Feel Pretty,” about a woman who suffers from low self-esteem until she bangs her head and believes she has become a supermodel.

An early trailer for the film, which opens in US movie theaters on Friday, was heavily criticized on social media for appearing to fat-shame women whose bodies do not conform to fashionably slim and toned ideals.

Schumer, however, says the message of the film is female empowerment and self confidence, whatever one’s size or looks.

“I think that we were real careful with staying on message, which was that it’s not about how anybody else sees you. It’s about how you see yourself and who you are,” Schumer told Reuters Television.

“There was this kind of strange backlash at the trailer and it just made me excited for those people to see the movie and realize that that’s not what we’re doing,” she added.

Schumer plays New York bachelorette Renee Bennett, who looks in the mirror and finds herself neither pretty, slim, attractive or cool enough. When she tumbles off an exercise bicycle, she falls unconscious and wakes to see herself as the woman she always wanted to be.

Although her outward appearance has not changed, Renee is suffused with newfound confidence and charisma, lands a great job, finds a boyfriend and even enters a bikini contest. But she later realizes her appearance never changed at all and comes to understand that true self-esteem comes from within.

Schumer, who chronicled her own issues with self-esteem in her best-selling 2016 memoir “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo,” said she enjoyed playing the role.

“Just living that out, playing that role, convincing myself that I was a supermodel - it was so fun. And yeah, I left feeling, I guess, the most confident I ever have,” she said.

“I Feel Pretty” is Schumer’s third feature film after a breakout year in 2015 when she brought her writing and acting talents from television series “Inside Amy Schumer” to the big screen with the comedy “Trainwreck,” which she also wrote.

“I Feel Pretty” was written and directed by Abby Cohn and Marc Silverstein and co-stars Michelle Williams in a rare comedic role.

Ismailia, April 16, 2018 - The head of the National Centre for Cinema, Khaled Abdel Jalil, and the Jordanian Project Manager of the Royal Film Commission, Shadi el-Nemiri, on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding with the aim of boosting cinematic culture. The MoU was signed on the sidelines of the 20th edition of the Ismailia International Film Festival.

According to the MoU, the Jordanian Commission is to screen some films from the Ismailia festival in Jordan.

Around 62 films from 48 countries are being shown at the festival, which is due to end on April 17.   

TEHRAN, April 16, 2018 (AFP) — Iran's banned film director Jafar Panahi responded on Sunday to his invitation to the Cannes Film Festival, calling it a sign that Iranian independent cinema is still alive despite “many threats.”

“This year for the first time in the history of Iranian cinema, two films by Iranian filmmakers are in the main competition at Cannes. This is a sign that Iranian cinema is alive and dynamic,” he wrote in an open letter carried by reformist news agency Ilna.

“But clearly this does not please those who want to see the death of independent cinema in Iran under any pretext and with many threats.”

Panahi was banned from making films and leaving the country after supporting mass protests in 2009 and making a series of films that critiqued the state of modern Iran.

That has not stopped him from working clandestinely in the country and his 2015 film Taxi won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival to the consternation of his conservative critics back home.

His new film Three Faces is one of 17 films competing for the Palme D'Or at Cannes in May, alongside Iran's two-time Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi with Everybody Knows.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux last week pleaded with Iran to let Panahi come to Cannes, while the Society of Iranian Film Directors wrote to President Hassan Rouhani requesting permission for him to leave.

“It is certain that... the pressure will continue, but independent cinema will try to preserve its independence with new voices,” said Panahi in his letter.

“But my personal wish, my biggest wish as a filmmaker, is that my films are shown in Iran, even if it's only one single cinema in the most remote location.”


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