Sunday, December 27, 2009
Egyptian film, 'Halim' (2006) mirrors politics, history
Sometimes, and perhaps most of the time, a film becomes valuable and enjoyable because it mirrors politics and history of times in which it is set. Egyptian film, 'Halim', about popular singer Abdel-Hali Hafez, played by Ahmed Zaki and directed by Sherif Arafa, is brilliant for this reason. The film's narrative hinges on a radio interview with the famous singer in his twilight days, and it brings back the struggle and success, the joy and sorrow of his career through well-sliced flashbacks. It is the pointed questioning about the singer's inner desires and ambitions, the professional and political dilemmas that brings back the life he lived. It is not a straightforward telling of the life and it is not straightforward questioning. What comes through is the sophisticated civilizational dialogue where cunning and insight go hand in hand.
Halim is forced on the back foot on two issues. First, his politics during the Nasser era and his complicity in the political rhetoric. Halim dodges, parries and finally accepts the illusion and disillusionment of the period. People are angry and sad, but Halim goes along with the delusions of the period though he becomes painfully aware of the hollowness of it all. He sings the political anthems of the day because that is what he needs to do to keep his career going, and he comes up against the contradictions and ironies as well. But it is the others more than Halim who feel the pain much more intensely. The narcissistic artist has but a vague awareness of the true picture of things.
The other issue is his indirect tiff with the legendary Umm Kulthum. He dares and he backs off. He defies and apologises to the singer.
This is one film that will give a clear glimpse of what is aching the Egyptian heart, the hypnotic song and music cannot hide the ugly truth.
It is a great achievement for director Sherif Arafa because he sustains the riveting narrative without falling into the pitfalls of didacticism or plain prpaganda. His 2007 film, 'El-Jezira', a melodramatic picturisation of an outlaw who has his own place in the traditional Egyptian society away from the deceptive glitziness of cosmopolitan Cairo.
What is wonderful about this film is how it balances critical judgment with that of deep sentimentality which is what the Nasser era -- something comparable to the Nehru era in independent Indian history -- evokes in the mind and heart of an ordinary Egyptian. Yes. It is still much too serious compared to the wonderful melodrama of mainstream Egyptian cinema and television. But it still shows immense power to move. The cinematic skills are in the employ of the compelling narrative.
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