Film Reviews

Film Review: Ali, The Goat and Ibrahim (2016)

The latest film from the Egyptian indie scene is a surreal piece of cinema that almost manifests itself as a fairy tale. Director Sherif El Bendary’s debut feature is a wild card that contains elements from his earlier work on a number of critically acclaimed short films (“Har Gaf Sayfan (2016)”). The film, an Egyptian French Qatari Emirati production (!), was first screened at Dubai International Film Festival, earning one of its leads the Muhr Award for best actor.

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Based on an unpublished story by filmmaker Ibrahim El-Batout (“Winter of Discontent (2012)”, “El Ott (2014)”), and a screenplay by Ahmed Amer, the film tells the story of two misfits who embark on a journey across Egypt to overcome their ailment. Set in one of Cairo’s underprivileged neighborhoods, the film follows the life of its main character, Ali, a young man madly in love with his fiancé Nada, with the single complication of Nada being a goat. Due to his crazy obsession, he becomes the object of ridicule for the entire neighborhood. His mother insists on taking him to a spiritual healer to treat him from what she considers a curse. The healer ends up giving him three stones to throw away in Egypt’s three main waterways; The Nile, The Mediterranean, and The Red Sea.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim, a talented sound engineer who lives in the same neighborhood, is a depressed man who constantly suffers from seizures where he alone can hear an excruciating high frequency noise. He is obsessed with uncovering the meaning of this mysterious noise and spends most of his time trying to record it. In a final effort to get rid of the seizures, Ibrahim visits the same spiritual healer and is also given three stones and assigned the same task as Ali. When the two meet outside the “clinic”, they decide to embark on a journey together to accomplish their mission and hopefully acquire peace.

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Taken at face value, the film is an absurd comedy that aims to entertain its viewer and perhaps garner a considerable amount of laughs at best. However, Ali, The Goat, and Ibrahim most certainly hides much more between its intricate layers. From subtly criticizing the effectiveness of the police in a hilarious scene where an officer aggressively attacks a teddy bear for drugs, to exploring themes of social acceptance and nonconformity, the film rarely misses a beat. Staying faithful to its message for most of its length, the film takes a stance against the harsh and intolerant attitude that has overcome modern Egyptian society. In the end, Ali and Ibrahim’s journey may not have successfully eliminated their eccentricity; instead it helped them thrive in their own idiosyncrasy, and ultimately accept themselves in spite of society’s disapproval.

With the help of a powerful cast that allows the story to reach its full potential, and a mesmerizing soundtrack that opts for the dramatic Daf in most of its tunes, the film elevates itself to be even considered somewhat of an art film. Judging by its highly unconventional story, and quirky sense of humor, it may not be a box-office success, but it certainly establishes its director as a new and talented figure in Egyptian cinema, whose future projects are to be eagerly anticipated.

Rating: 9/10

Film Analysis

My (2017) Watchlist

 Though two months have passed, 2017 seems to still hold a number of great films yet to be released. Of course, January and February have offered some powerful films to kick-start the year, mostly in the Horror/Thriller genre, and despite the fact that 2016 may have raised the bar for the genre with productions like 10 Cloverfield Lane, The VVitch, Under the Shadow, The Neon Demon and a lot more, it appears that 2017 may become an even bigger year for horror fans everywhere. However this list will not be limited to horror movies, as a number of other Drama films successfully grabbed the attention of many cinema goers and managed to land on everyone’s 2017 watch-list.

Raw (2016) opening March 10 to limited release

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 The first full length film for promising French director Julia Ducournau seems to have gained a lot of attention at a number of film festivals, most notably winning The FIPRESCI Award at Cannes film festival and The Sutherland Award at London film festival. The film which has been widely praised for its visual style revolves around a young vegetarian forced to eat raw meat as part of an acceptance ritual at school, however her taste for meat takes dangerous cannibalistic measures.

 I wouldn’t be surprised if Ducournau opts for exploitative elements from the new French extremity, especially when it comes to the visceral and sexual aspects of the story. Accordingly, it’s certainly expected that the film will garner some negative reviews from the more sensitive members of the audience. Still, Raw proclaims itself as an original and captivating horror story that will hopefully add to the genre.


The Bad Batch (2016) opening 23 June

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 The second feature length film for Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour, the first being the critically acclaimed, and a personal favorite, A girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). Her latest film, starring Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, and Keanu Reeves, also deals with cannibalistic themes.

 Set in a dystopian future, the film follows Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), as she navigates her way through the Texas wasteland, dealing with the remaining bizarre collection of humans in it. Retaining the avant-garde style of the director, the film appears to contain elements from her first feature, only on a bigger scale (and budget for that matter!). If the film is half as good as the director’s first, then it’s a triumph already.


The Transfiguration (2016) opening 7 April to limited release

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 This Indie vampire movie revolves around Milo, a young boy fascinated with vampires. His friendship with a young girl, Sophie, alters his psyche as he begins to confuse the line between fantasy and reality. The Transfiguration seems like an interesting psychological thriller, with some supernatural elements thrown in. As a fan of vampire movies, watching a film that elevates its product from a generic pile of CGI, to an intriguing character study that actually explores the human mind would be a pleasant and very welcome surprise.


Berlin Syndrome (2017) opening 20 April

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 The latest film from critically acclaimed Australian director Cate Shortland, Berlin Syndrome (2017), is a drama/thriller about a young Australian photojournalist (Theresa Palmer) visiting Berlin, whose romance with a local guy (Max Reimelt) turns terribly wrong when he locks her up in his apartment seemingly indefinitely.

 Shortland’s work constantly explores the female psychology of its characters, her earlier work Somersault (2004), and Lore (2012) are two excellent examples of her creative capacities. Her latest film seems to be no different. Exploring the themes of obsessive love has been expressed in many films now, yet it is often a crazy female character that appears obsessed. Shortland is definitely not afraid of shifting the dynamics and hopefully her film will be as courageous as she is.


 The Beguiled (2017) opening 30 June

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 Sofia Coppola’s latest film features an all-star cast; with Collin Farell, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Dunst and Elle Fanning. Based on the 1971 film of the same name, the story is set during the civil war, where a wounded soldier is taken in by a group of young women staying together at a girl’s school in Virginia. The events take an erotic turn as the entire house writhes with sexual tension, jealousy, and rivalry when the soldier begins to seduce them one by one.

 The premise of the film is quite compelling, and judging by the names credited, the performances seem very promising as the entire cast is superb. It would be interesting to see Coppola’s vision of the story, and of course to enjoy the stunning cinematography of Philippe Le Sourd, since the trailer looks mesmerizing already.


The Discovery (2017) released 31 March

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 This Netflix Original production is probably one of the most authentic and innovative stories of the year. A scientist (Robert Redford) discovers scientific evidence of the afterlife, leading to a massive increase in the number of suicides. A year after his shocking discovery, a couple (Rooney Mara and Jason Segel) struggle to maintain their relationship as the truth of this revelation becomes questionable.

 With its highly compelling premise, The Discovery runs the risk of failing to deliver, as it might waste its length in the build-up without an actual pay off. However, as an intrigued viewer, I shall keep my fingers crossed on this one and wait for, if nothing else, the beautiful cinematography this feature entails.


The Secret Scripture (2016) opening 19 May

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 Based on the novel by the same name, this period drama follows the life of Rose, played by both Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara, a mental institute patient who recounts the events of her life during the upheavals in Ireland in the 1920’s, analyzing how political and religious views affected her life at the time.

 Directed by Jim Shreidan, and set against the beautiful landscapes of Ireland, like a number of masterfully shot recent films have lately (Under the Skin(2013), The Lobster(2015)),  The film certainly shows a lot of promise, especially from its powerful cast, and intriguing screenplay. With The Ottoman Lieutenant opening this week, and The Promise opening in April, 2017 definitely appears like an interesting year for period drama fans.


 You Were Never Really Here (2017)

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 Nothing much has been released about Lynne Ramsey’s latest project, except it stars Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a war veteran trying to save a girl from a sex trafficking circle, but his attempt goes terribly wrong. Apparently 2017 is the year for female filmmakers, as this is the fifth film by a female director on this list alone.

 It seems like Lynne Ramsay is returning to the thriller genre, six years after her success with We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011), an exceptionally fine film that certainly intrigued its viewers to await more from the talented director.


Loving Vincent (2017)

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 With 65,000 frames hand painted on over than a 1,000 canvases, Loving Vincent establishes itself as more than simply an animation film. The five-year project that required over a 100 painters working at studios in the Polish cities of Gdansk and Wroclow is to be finally released in 2017. The film’s idea and technique as the world’s first fully painted feature film was inspired by a line from one of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother: “We cannot speak other than by our paintings”.

 Filmmaker and oil painter Dorota Kobeila was inspired to begin the project after a time of crisis in her life, in which she found solace in the letters of the Dutch painter. The film which will revolve around the life and mysterious death of one of art’s most renowned figures will probably be Vincent Van Gogh’s greatest tribute ever. As a film enthusiast and an art aficionado, I wouldn’t miss this film for the world.


Film Analysis

Freaks (1932): A humane lesson ahead of its time

In 1932, after Todd Browning’s huge success with Dracula (1931), the young director was assigned a new project, one that eventually got banned in more than one country for its vulgar monstrosity, yet when viewed today is a rather heart-rending drama about the real monsters that lurk within; humans.

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Opening with a statement about the history of human deformities, and how society has always been odious towards them, the film sets the tone for its highly empathetic and gentle approach to explore the lives of a group of deformed circus performers, or “freaks”, and the men and women who discriminate against them. The story revolves around a beautiful trapeze artist, Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), and her lover Hercules (Henry Victor), as they plot an evil scheme to rob the dwarf Hans (Harry Earles) of his fortune. Though the couple’s scorn is obvious to the entire lot of “monsters”, Hans falls for the plot as he essentially falls in love with Cleopatra.

When it was first screened in 1932, a woman claimed to have had a miscarriage due to the film’s monstrous nature. I personally doubt that anyone would blink an eye watching this film today. So what really happened? Have we as an audience become more empathic towards body image deformities, or have we simply become desensitized to most forms of the macabre because of all the splatter films and even everyday news?

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Despite the production company bailing on the film, and distancing itself from it as much as possible, and the actors themselves expressing disdain towards it, the film remains one of the most compassionate and realistic depictions of circus freak shows. Through its diverse characters, and various tones of good and evil, the film evolves from simply a fairy tale of what is right and what is wrong, into a fascinating realistic story of human deception, malice, group loyalty, and even romantic love stories.

Todd Browning’s attempt to instill tolerance in his audiences towards the often mistreated circus members, as he himself was once a circus member living among said abnormalities of nature, may have escaped his audience’s comprehension. However, his message certainly shines clearly among contemporary audiences. His 64-minute film delivers a powerful statement that not only affects the deformed actors who display a lot of heart, but also the “normal” viewers of 1932 who deemed this film vile. Viewed from afar, it definitely shows how much society has changed over the years.