Director Abu-Bakr Shawky’s critically acclaimed debut feature film is a rather unique venture in a league of its own. The film which garnered an award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for another two – one of which was the Palme d’Or – was met with a standing ovation upon its screening, for its highly humane approach towards a subject which has almost never been approached in Egyptian cinema before.
The story follows Beshay, a forty-year-old leper who leaves the leper colony in which he has lived his entire life to embark on a wild journey in search of his family. He is eventually followed by a young Nubian orphaned boy nicknamed Obama, and the plot unfolds around as the two of them run into their fair portion of mishaps. This is indeed the very basic formula for a road movie that explores the world through the eyes of its main characters, especially as it delves into Beshay’s inner struggles and often overlaps the present with flashbacks from his childhood, or even dreams of a completely different reality.
Shawky manages to explore ideas of acceptance and tolerance through a rather extreme example that despite having encounters that seem somewhat isolated succeeds in projecting the general air of prejudice of Egyptian society. The characters that Beshay meets on his way vary wildly yet are all connected by their evident hostility, whether it’s against the diseased, Copts, or even people of a lower social class than themselves. A minor setback remains in the way in which such ideas are reviewed through the characters’ dialogue, with lines that more often than not sound highly unrealistic coming from characters of such social backgrounds as introduced on screen. Overall the dialogue throughout the whole film frequently comes off as dry and amateurish, and I strongly believe that if the humane heartwarming factor of the film was somehow extracted out of it, the dialogue would have been extremely problematic.
Despite having numerous drawbacks, most of which are related to performances as is natural to using non-professional actors, Yommedine is a solid film that has enough high points to render it appealing to most audiences. The wit and humor sported by the main characters is enough to grip any viewer’s attention if not instant affection as well. The filmmaker shows a strong sense of individuality that allows his film with its peculiar story to stand out, and will most likely enable it to remain memorable and withstand the test of time as well. Whether or not its artistic value would be equally prized is debatable.