by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2018: Propelled into the limelight of the Cannes competition, Egyptian director A.B. Shawky's first film is a simple, luminous and moving road-movie with a focus on social exclusion
A surprise guest in the official competition of the 71st Cannes Film Festival, Yomeddine [+see also:
interview: A.B. Shawky, Dina Emam
film profile] (meaning "last judgement" in Arabic), is the first full-length film by A.B. Shawky, the 32-year-old filmmaker of Egyptian-Austrian descent. Yomeddine [+see also:
interview: A.B. Shawky, Dina Emam
film profile] survived its baptism of fire on the Croisette, displaying the same nerve and temerity as its main character, a leper (now cured but who still carries the scars of his illness on his face and hands) who hits the road, exposing himself to the public gaze after decades of life in an isolated area, secluded alongside pariahs like himself. The film follows his jarring and adventure-filled journey towards his birth town and a family he so wants to see, in the company of a 10-year-old orphan with whom he has formed a friendship.
It all begins in the heart of the desert, in a locality known as “The Mountain of Trash” (and which is fully deserving of its name). Beshay (Rady Gamal) works here on his own, sifting through the detritus and selling on bits and bobs, before re-joining the leprosarium where he has spent the larger part of his life, since that day in his childhood when his father left him at the gate with a sack over his head. But our kind hero (now around forty years old), who always greets his fellow lepers with a bright and cheery “Hello lepers”, is in pain, because his wife lies catatonic in a mental health institution. In no time at all, she dies, and the unexpected visit he receives from his mother-in-law awakens in Beshay the very distant memory of family. Knowing only the name of his birth town further down in the South and with very little encouragement (to say the least) from his entourage, he departs, headed for adventure on his little cart, pulled along by his donkey, Harby. And Obama (Ahmed Abdelhafiz), a little Nubian boy who’s badly treated in his orphanage and known as "hard-head" (“tête de pioche”), clambers onto the cart unnoticed. The team-of-two take the road towards the Nile, but as lepers aren’t well viewed in a world that places high value on appearances, their journey will inevitably be fraught with pitfalls and with danger…
An undeniably refreshing film at a time where directors worldwide often compete over the sophisticated processes they adopt, Yomeddine avoids the pitfalls in which its script, full to bursting with good feeling, could easily have become trapped, and the innocence of the film never veers towards excessive dramatization. On the contrary, it opts for light-hearted humour in this area of Egypt which is light-years away from tourist-based stereotypes (which pass by imperceptible, like multi-coloured mirages across the river in the night). Filmed in a measured and controlled classical style, this realist tale, which could easily speak to any audience and which conveys a fundamental humanist message, is often accompanied by the music of Omar Fadel, supplying a rhythm for the travels of our two lead characters. We may be some way away from the complexity of the Elephant Man by David Lynch, a film which explores a similar theme, and some might well believe Yomeddine to be too naïve and sentimental compared to the highly elaborate works generally put forward by the long-standing moguls of the Cannes competition. But this humble film heralding a return to basics is proof that lucky stars can also shine on the efforts of the more modest individuals among us, in the best sense of the word.
Yomeddine is produced by Egyptian companies Desert Highway Pictures and Film-Clinic, with international sales managed by Wild Bunch.
(Translated from French)
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