Film Reviews

Film Review: The Square (2017)


 To say that Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s film The Square is a bizarre work of art is a bit of an understatement. Juggling between comedy, drama, social, and political satire, Östlund masterfully delivers a film that has its audience laughing out loud mostly out of the awkwardness of the situation presented on screen, all while maintaining an absurdist tone throughout its staggering 150 minutes running time. The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and is nominated for the Best Foreign Film in the upcoming Academy Awards.

 The film revolves mainly around the life of a modern art museum curator named Christian (Claes Bang) who hires an advertising agency to promote the latest art installation attained by the museum. As the multi layers of The Square unfold, Christian’s life spirals out of control, beginning from his already turbulent relationship with a journalist, Anne (Elizabeth Moss), to his encounters with a young refugee boy that alters his bystander’s views on the political scene and the world around him, and eventually ending with the advertising agency’s extreme ideas that lead to catastrophic events endangering Christian’s tactically planned career and social status.

 In the opening scene of the film, Christian is shown being interviewed by equal parts confused and amazed Anne. He discusses the concept of art, and the contemporary artworks showcased in his museum with such poise and confidence. He asks his interviewer whether placing her handbag in a corner of the museum would correspondingly turn it into a piece of art. A confused Elizabeth Moss asks “would it?”, Christian then takes a long pause as if he himself is not certain whether the bag would be considered art or not. With this tongue-in-cheek dialogue, accentuated by Claes Bang’s solid performance, Östlund sets the tone for one of the major themes of his film. What is art? And what makes art art? He pokes fun at contemporary art aficionados, suggesting that the real distinction that separates contemporary art from everyday objects is simply an elitist illusion, an emperor’s clothes sort of trick, that allows snobbish self-proclaimed individuals to decide what can and cannot be art.

  This part of the review will contain spoilers for the film’s ending, so if you wish to watch this film spoiler free, you should probably skip the following paragraph.

 “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring, within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” Thus goes the motto of the latest art installment claimed by the museum. Christian is seen repeating these words multiple times during the film, yet his equal measures comical and upsetting encounter with a young refugee boy whom Christian mistakenly accuses of theft, proves that the finely polished art snob knows very little about equal rights and obligations. His constant efforts to refrain from making amends to the young boy’s family, hilarious as they may be, manage to irritate the viewer, especially as Christian persists on maintaining a cowardly and condescending behavior. However what makes this film really uncomfortable is the ending, as when Christian finally decides to offer the boy an apology, climbing an unmistakably square staircase to reach the boy’s lowly apartment, finally entering the infamous square, the family had already left. In a single blow Östlund denies his audience any form of catharsis, especially after watching the main character conducting himself rather very distastefully for two and a half hours.

 The Square is a rich and complex film that manages to get its audience to laugh out loud then expertly drives them to rethink what they’ve just laughed about. It is social satire at its best, provoking the thought of its audience and introducing questions that are not necessarily novel, yet not often asked because of their uncomforting nature. Despite its erratic pace, unlikable characters and often equally shocking and hilarious script, this is a film definitely worth checking.

Film Reviews

Film Review: Season of Narges (2017)


A couple of old female taxi drivers, an acclaimed actor having a feud with the paparazzi, a young woman looking after her suicidal friend, and a hopeless romantic trying to resolve the divorce of her best friend while seeking a love interest herself. With an all-star ensemble cast, Iranian director Negar Azarbayjani (Facing Mirrors, 2011) manages to showcase a slice of Iranian life and everyday human drama. Her light-hearted 90-minute drama successfully immerses its viewer into the tiny details of the lives of each and every character shown on screen.

 Adapting a non-linear storytelling approach, Azarbayjani cleverly manages to relate the intertwined everyday lives of her characters, and as the film progresses, the viewer manages to notice the sometimes even non-chronological connections between the characters’ lives. The variety of the characters and their problems also sheds some light on some of the problems facing Iranian society that are rather less spoken of, such as suicide and mental health or the legitimacy of organ transplant in an Islamic country. It may come across as biting off more than one could chew, but the delicate handling of these subjects among others and balancing them with other much lighter problems in comparison like seeking true love or rejection, help ease the audience into viewing these themes without feeling uncomfortable for analyzing them for long, or even putting too much thought into any part of the movie at all.

 However, this superficial attempt at exploring some of the most widely recognized aspects of human suffering not only in Iranian society but in the whole world, may be exactly what can be considered the weakness of this movie. Despite being a very human heart-warming drama, Season of Narges fails to achieve anything more artistically or intellectually. In a way it delivers only emotion to its viewer ignoring a wide opportunity at exploring any of the proposed themes solely and in-depth. The solid performances, well-written characters, and decent cinematography all make this film perfect for a lazy afternoon, but sadly for nothing more.


Film Reviews

Film Review: Withered Green (2016)

For some reason I felt like writing this one in Arabic, however I’ll try to update this review with the English version as well ASAP, because this beautiful film definitely deserves both languages.

أخضر يابس

 بشعرية شديدة, و الكثير من السوداوية, يتابع فيلم “أخضر بابس” حياة بطلته ايمان في رحلتها للبحث عن أحد أعمامها لمقابلة عريس  شقيقتها الصغرى بدلا من والديهما المتوفي. و بينما تتوالي فصول الفيلم ينكشف لدي ايمان مدي تقييد هذه العادات و التقاليد لها و لأختها سويا. الفيلم ذو الثلاثة و سبعون دقيقة هو الفيلم الطويل الأول لمخرجه محمد حماد, و التجربة السينمائية الأولى لبطلته هبة علي, و هو حائز على جائزة المهر لأفضل مخرج من مهرجان دبي السينمائي الدولي.

على مدار أسبوع, تتبع الكاميرا ايمان أثناء قيامها بمشاغل حياتها اليومية التي تمزج بين الهدوء و الرتابة, فتنطلق من أعمال المنزل اليومية, لرحلتها المتكررة بالترام, لتعمل بمحل حلويات يبدو عليه القدم و البساطة.  يتخلل هدوء عالمها النسبي الاحباط حين يتوالى عليها فشل محاولاتها لاقناع الأعمام الذكور بمقابلة العريس الشاب. كذلك يستمر جو عام من القلق طوال الفيلم حيث يبدو أن ايمان تعاني من مشاكل صحية لها علاقة بالخصوبة, الأمر الذي تتجاهله متعمدة و بشدة طوال فترة الفيلم, حتي يظهر تأثيره الصادم كليا بالمشهد الختامي.


 رغم هدوء ايقاع الفيلم الذي يصل أحيانا الي حد الملل, الا أن هذا الهدوء النسبي هو في الواقع أقوي عناصر “أخضر يابس”, فما أن  يتسلل الجو العام للفيلم للمشاهد حتى تمتزج مشاعره كليا ببطلة الفيلم, شاعرا بالكم المتضاهي من الضجر و الاحباط و العجز الذي تشعر به. يتطرق لذهن المشاهد أفلام مثل جين ديلمان (1975) لشانتال أكيرمان أو الخروج للنهار (2012) لهالة لطفي, حيث نجح صناع الأفلام الثلاثة بايصال شعور الوحشة و الفراغ الذي تمر به بطلاتهم بواقعية شديدة. ذلك بالاضافة لأداء بطلة الفيلم هبة علي, الذي على الرغم من جموده أحيانا, الا أنه ينجح كليا بايصال ما تمر به ايمان فقط عن طريق ملامح وجهها و بأقل حوار ممكن. فعلى الرغم من جمال الفيلم, تبقى تجربة مشاهدته مرهقة الى حد كبير لما يحويه من حزن خالص في كثير من الأحيان.

تصوير الفيلم بالغ الحرفية, تملأه كادرات تظهر بعد أيمان عن الكاميرا و ضآلتها على الشاشة, تماما كبعدها و ضآلتها عن حياتها نفسها.  كذلك المونتاج, حيث يتخلل حياة ايمان اليومية مشاهد لسلحفاتها المنزلية التي تبدو على الرغم من بطء حركتها و كأنها تنعم بحياة أكثر راحة و صفاء من ايمان. و يضفي طاقم العمل غير الاحترافي, و الذي يتكون أغلبه من أقارب صناع الفيلم و أصدقائهم, طابع من الواقعية الخالصة على الفيلم, فينجح أخضر يابس باضافة بعد انساني ملموس لشخصياته, فهي أكثر من مجرد شخصيات خيالية ,بل هي واقع المجتمع المصري بذاته, و يبقى تمرد ايمان بنهاية الفيلم على تقاليد هذا المجتمع و تحكماته ما هو الا ردة فعل لكم الضغوط التي تعرضت لها, بل هو أقرب ما وصلت اليه من التصالح مع النفس و مواجهة الواقع بدلا من تناسيه في تجهيز ستائر المنزل لمقابلة العريس المنتظر, أو ترتيب معروضات المحل.


Film Reviews

Film Review: Sheikh Jackson (2017)

 From acclaimed Egyptian director Amr Salama (Asmaa, 2011, Excuse my French, 2014), comes a 90-minute feature that defines the mediocrity that has overcome mainstream Egyptian cinema. The amateurish endeavor which stars some of Egyptian cinema’s most recognized faces was surprisingly selected to be submitted for the 90th Academy Awards, despite its conspicuous flaws and shortcomings on both the artistic and entertainment aspects.

Sheikh Jackson

 The story follows a religious man as he goes through a crisis of faith when he realizes that his childhood idol, Michael Jackson, is now dead. The film shifts from the present to past memories to even dream sequences in its journey to unravel the life and upbringing of its main character, spawning a number of supporting characters and subplots along the way that most of the time serve no purpose whatsoever to the plot. This nonlinear approach at storytelling, along with the clumsy script, eventually leads the whole film to appear rather messy and underdeveloped.

 Despite the fine camerawork and lighting, mainly the change in color palettes between present day and past memories, Sheikh Jackson fails to deliver the artistic merit it promises. The vulgarly flawed script, stiff acting, the lack of depth that all the characters sport whether supporting or even the main character itself, and the particularly cringe worthy CGI of a certain dream sequence all guarantee the film’s inevitable fall into oblivion over the upcoming years.


 I tried not to bash this film, I honestly did, however there is something absolutely insulting when presenting similarly unexceptional films as masterpieces, especially when other underrepresented indie films are much more worthy. In the end, Sheikh Jackson may be an entertaining film, that is if you overcome the excruciatingly unrealistic societal backgrounds of the main characters, the highly clichéd script, the god-awful CGI, and the extremely distorted soundtrack, but is it really worth submitting to the academy, or even receiving half the praise it got? I highly doubt it.

Rating: 3/10

My Cinema Paradiso

#3: A Woman in Berlin (2008)


A Woman in Berlin is yet another film that explores the fall of Germany from the point of view of a Nazi sympathizer. As the main character, who remains nameless, says in the beginning of the film “We all breathed the same air, and it was intoxicating”. The beautiful Nina Hoss stars as a single woman trying to survive the stray bullets and the multiple rape assaults brought on by the Russian army during the fall of Berlin.

 The film is originally based on the controversial memoir by the same name, and it stays true to the source material for the entirety of its length. Director Max Färberböck succeeds in capturing the moral confusion of his main character, a female journalist living in Berlin in 1945. As the Russian troops sweep through the city, she finds herself, along with every other woman in her building, subjected to rape and sexual assaults every single day, as the Russian soldiers begin to implement their own idea of justice and revenge against the atrocities of the Nazi army. As it becomes harder and harder to escape the unwanted attempts, some of the women decide to offer company to high-ranking officers in exchange for protection from the night raids and the humiliation, a decision that will mark them for life.


 When the memoir was first published in 1953 it received incredibly harsh opposition from people who believed these women where shameless to dignify themselves and their country in such a way, but are they really? The beauty of A Woman in Berlin lies in its multi-layered complexity. No one is innocent, and everyone deserves punishment, yet the vulnerability of all the characters represented on-screen can make the viewer’s moral compass extremely indecisive. It is a beautiful portrait of women in war-time that is rarely presented, and almost never with such precision.

 Another film that deals with similar themes springs to mind, the 2011 Chinese drama The Flowers of War. However, in the case of Yimou Zhang’s epic, the shades of good and evil were easily separable. A Woman in Berlin manages to deliver a much more realistic tale, emotionally charged with all the human emotions that one would expect from a similarly chaotic time. It forces its viewer to ultimately gape in awe and sympathy at the strength of these women, who dare to make jokes out of their rape stories, and to simply survive.