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Based on an unpublished story by filmmaker Ibrahim El-Batout (“Winter of Discontent (2012)”, “El Ott (2014)”), and a screenplay by Ahmed Amer, the film tells the story of two misfits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

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