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CANNES 2024 Directors’ Fortnight

Review: East of Noon


- CANNES 2024: In her sophomore feature, Hala Elkoussy crafts a chaotic folktale set in a bizarre theatre company ruled by a childish tyrant

Review: East of Noon

Hala Elkoussy’s East of Noon [+see also:
interview: Hala Elkoussy
film profile
is probably a film inspired by many others from the region (the press notes claim that it “invokes the spirit of the new African and Arab cinemas of the 1960s and 1970s”), and is rich in literary and visual references. At first glance, we can sense that there’s been some careful direction put into each scene, but unfortunately, the film as a whole may have a hard time keeping viewers hooked. The Egyptian director’s sophomore feature has world-premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight strand of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

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First things first: the plot is chaotic and hard to describe. We’re in an industrial wasteland, in the middle of nowhere. Here, we follow a bunch of young characters working for what appears to be a zany theatre company, ruled by a childish tyrant called Shawky the Showman (played by veteran Ahmed Kamal), obsessed with lottery tickets and sugar cubes. Among the youngsters, Abdo Galala (19-year-old newcomer Omar Rozeik) and Nunna Lolly (dancer Fayza Shama) gradually take centre stage.

There’s very little to say about this movie, in all frankness. From start to finish, we are essentially immersed in a dreamlike atmosphere where events unfold in a non-linear way and the characters’ relations are hard to decipher. The picture is almost entirely shot in black and white, and the appearance of colour on a few, sporadic occasions is a choice that could be described as enigmatic.

Of course, there are some moments that may dazzle and captivate – often, these involve the company’s shows and the characters dancing. But they are not enough to make Elkoussy’s work compelling. The intergenerational clash and the contrast between the industrial, rugged landscape and the sea are also elements that might have had the potential to be explored further, but they ultimately remain in the background and are barely hinted at.

The only positive note is bound to the picture’s cinematography. It was lensed by Abd El-Salam Moussa on 16 mm, and in particular, he does an excellent job of playing with shadows, sand and smoke, and filming the poorly lit interiors. And although some of his imagery is striking, this feature still lacks solid storytelling and, simply put, a decent raison d’être.

All in all, the movie doesn’t manage to deliver anything notable or memorable, always merely scratching the surface and losing its way as it depicts unintelligible symbols and metaphors, and leaving too much unsaid. The freewheeling, arthouse-like approach doesn’t lead to a rewarding ending, instead leaving even more questions unanswered.

East of Noon was produced by Dutch outfits Vriza and Seriousfilm, with Egyptian firm Nu'ta Films.

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