If we are to have a look at the films screened in Egypt in 2012, we will find that, by far, the most significant among them is Ahmed Abdullah’s Saa w-Nuss (An Hour-and-a-Half)
. The film is the third in a trilogy by Abdullah, through which he presents the largest possible number of humanitarian stories in a panoramic vista within specific place and time. The two box office hits Cabaret and al-Farah (The Wedding) were the first two in the trilogy.
The storyline of Saa w-Nuss unfolds in a train travelling from Cairo to Beni-Sweif, whereas Cabaret and al-Farah took place in sedentary spots, a night club and an alley respectively. All three films follow a similar approach by presenting characters who seem to be heading for the same dire destiny, with death depicted as the only way out of their poverty, hunger and agony.
Cast of characters
In Saa wa Nuss the screenplay writer relays a high dose of depressive narrative that he picks masterfully from the plethora of Egyptian train accidents. The journey from Cairo to Beni-Sweif takes about an hour and a half; hence the name of the film. Abdullah presents the stories of the third class passengers on the train during the hour and a half that precede their downfall.
Here is a mother who does not read or write, masterfully played by the great Karima Mukhtar, whose son leaves her with a paper in her hand asking anyone who finds her to hand her over to a home for the elderly. Many people in the audience were snuffling into their Kleenex at Mukhtar’s realistic performance. Then there is the frivolous books vendor played by Eyad Nassr, who in spite of his Bachelor of Arts degree that he has earned with honours finds himself without a job that meets his qualifications. Fathy Abdel-Wahab plays a small land-owner who, after selling his land and using the funds for the education of his wife (Yusra al-Lozy), suffers from an inferiority complex when she becomes a physician. There are the characters of a widow and a tea vendor (Sawsan Badr and Ahmed al-Saadani). An officer (Maged al-Kidwani) is holding a young man (Ahmed al-Fishawi), whom he has caught passionately kissing a foreigner in broad daylight in the street, and then tries to talk his detainee into marrying his spinster sister. Two friends who have just returned from Libya after failing to find work there and losing their life savings are also on board, lamenting their destiny. One of them has a sudden attack of kidney failure and dies, while still aboard.
The stories of people waiting on the platform are also told. Behind everyone waiting on the platform is a story. One such is the wife of the train conductor and her affair with the railway line thief. Another, played by Hala Fakher, is of a woman waiting for her brother, who is travelling on the train to help her with her mentally retarded child. Ahmed Bedeir plays the role of the railway supervisor, roaming between the tracks thinking of a way to provide for his daughter’s trousseau as well as how to regain his wife (Sumaya al-Khashab), who is having an affair with another man. A gang that specialises in stealing railway tracks is led by two ringleaders (Mohamed Imam and Ahmed Falawkas). The gang steals the tracks but not with the aim of harming the train or its passengers. They believe the railway supervisor will warn the train conductor once he discovers the disappearance of the tracks, but at this point the railway supervisor discovers his wife’s betrayal with the line thief, which blinds him from anything else. He kills his wife’s lover. Several attempts are made to try to warn the train conductor and divert disaster.
The film, directed by Wa’el Ihssan, offers the audience an experience enthralling in appearance but non-satisfying in content. Even though it grips the attention of the audience, incorporating serious thrill techniques, the film presents numerous uprooted stories that deprive the audience from savouring the performance of a solid cast of actors.
The soundtrack by Yasser Abdel-Rahman is more of a continuous wailing and lamentation which works like a prediction of the destiny of the passengers from the first scene. This helps turn the film into a painful and depressing epic poem which, lacking depth, simply gives a sharp wrench to the psyche.