9 August 2009
After the great success achieved by the film Cabaret, which was a notable hit last year, the same production team has a new film this season. Al-Farah (The Wedding) .
First, we thought the new film was just using the success of Cabaret, which disclosed an interesting illustration of the duality of values in the Egyptian society. However, after watching Al-Farah, written by Ahmed Abdullah and directed by Sameh Abdel-Aziz, one has proof that the team has succeeded in introducing thorny issues with a commendable mastery of performance.
The film centres on one kind of pretence which thrives in Egypt’s over-crowded, underprivileged areas. The so-called gamiet al-farah, literally the wedding collection, involves holding a fake wedding—nothing but a pretend celebration, including the usual singing and dancing—to collect the nuqout or monetary gift customarily given to help newlyweds in their new life. This gift is normally expected to be given back to the donors once they have an occasion such as a wedding or a newborn of their own. But what if the donors do not have any such occasion of their own in the foreseen future? This is where gamiet al-farah comes in handy; the pretend wedding is endorsed and understood by the entire community—after all, the money ought to somehow rightfully exchange hands.
The motive of Muallim Zeinhom, played by Khaled al-Sawi, to hold a pretend wedding was to collect enough nuqout to buy a microbus which he can then operate for a lucrative livelihood.
A gathering of sorts
The events reveal the tale of every character gathering for the so-called wedding. There is the monologist Salah Warda (Salah Abdullah) whose professional presence at weddings now seems almost obsolete, which embarrasses him in front of his son.
The more distinct character is Samira (Donia Samir Ghanem), who sells beer and soft drinks at the wedding. She fears the rampant harassment on such occasions where men drink freely, thus ‘conceals’ her femininity under rough manners and men’s clothing. She is a soft person nonetheless and finds it very hard to resist the advances of a young man, one of the guests at the wedding (Bassem al-Samra) who speaks gentle words of love to her. When she finds out he is a rat, she kills him.
There is also the wedding impresario (Maged al-Kidwani), the man generally charged with the business of introducing performers. He has a scar on his face he has had for 20 years, caused by his father (Mohamed Mitwalli) whom he has never forgiven. The father chases his son seeking forgiveness.
Since the wedding is make-believe, it requires a similarly make-believe bride and groom. And that is where Abdullah (Yasser Galal) comes in, together with Gamila (Syrian actress Jumana Murad). They have been officially married for seven years, but are too poor to hold the ceremonial, socially-accepted wedding. Thus they welcome acting the roles of bride and groom at this fake wedding.
It has been rumoured, however, that they have been having a full relationship, which prompts Gamila’s father to marry her to her fiancé and clear the family name. The father wanted to do this in the old tradition; to demonstrate the virginity of his daughter to the entire neighbourhood by displaying the blood-stained bridal sheet. And so Gamila must now have the required hymenoplasty.
The film has two different endings. The death of Zeinhom’s mother—played by veteran actress Karima Mukhtar—midway through the wedding, as Zeinhom has collected just half the nuqout he expected to collect, is the event on which the two endings hinge. It places two choices in front of Zeinhom. The first is to hide the news of the death and let the wedding go ahead so he can collect the money. Zeinhom’s wife, appalled at his insensitivity, leaves him; the bag of nuqout is stolen, and the beer seller kills the man who almost raped her. And so the wedding turns into a funerary event anyway.
The alternative ending is that Zeinhom announces the death of his mother and a stop is immediately put to the wedding. Satisfied with what little money he has managed to gather, Zeinhom’s wife does not desert him and the murder does not take place.
Without direct preaching, the film introduces the most comprehensive gathering of poverty issues in Egyptian society. The film is altogether of high artistic standard; the acting is superb and the music expressive. And even though the hara (alley) designed by Islam Youssef is typically realistic, shooting most of the scenes inside the wedding tent gave the audience the feel of being in a theatre.
All in all, however, al-Farah gives a large space to comedy and tragedy simultaneously; smiles are drawn on the faces while tears gleam in the eyes.