In its “Copts in the Press” of 1 March Watani International wrote about the controversy that was then raging about the film 1/0 had not yet been screened. A number of Coptic and Muslim lawyers had filed a complaint with the public prosecutor asking for the film, which had been rumoured to be disdainful of Christianity, to be banned. Watani had then commented that: “The film has not yet been publicly screened, meaning that those who claim it disdains Christianity have not seen it in the first place. They merely heard stories that the film tackles the issue of a Christian woman who obtained a civil divorce, then badgered the Church to acknowledge the divorce. I have not seen the film so cannot say whether it disdains Christianity in any way, but I can definitely say that the claim against the film has given it publicity beyond the producers’ wildest dreams.” Watani advised its readers to see the film first then protest against it later.
1/0 is now showing in cinema theatres in Cairo. The title 1/0 denotes the outcome of the Egypt/Cameroon football match in the 2006 Africa Cup final. The event was the inspiration for Mariam Naoum’s first attempt at film-making, which she definitely carried off with skill.
The film begins by introducing several characters who live apparently isolated lives, but then connect in an intricate web of events which culminates on the day of the match.
There is the veiled young woman, played by Nelly Karim, who is a nurse and makes home visits to give injections to those who cannot go to the hospital. Her dreams are centred on buying expensive clothes which she cannot afford. There is also the singer (Zeina), who depends on her physical attractions rather than her voice, and becomes a star in no time by having an affair with a famous director. She prepares a national song for the Egypt-Cameroon match. How is she related to the veiled woman? They turn out to be sisters. Moreover, we learn that the singer—the one who is seen by the community to be leading an immoral life—is the one who cares for her family and supports them financially, whereas her veiled sister is selfish and cares for none but herself.
The Christian divorcee
Entissar plays a ballana, a woman who beautifies brides before their weddings. She is a hard working woman, despite the fact that she cheats on the cosmetic products she uses in order to make more money. Her son, a hairdresser played by Ahmed al-Fishawy, dreams of having his own private hairdressing salon, and tries to steal his boss’s clients. When the owner realises this he kicks him out and insults him by calling him the son of a ballana. He immediately goes home and bursts out angrily at his mother, not appreciating how hard she has worked to afford things for him, and hurting her deeply. Despite her son’s abuse, she offers him all her savings to help open a salon of his own. However, his long-held dream seems out of reach because he loves his neighbour, the singer, but knows he cannot marry her now that she has become a great star.
Meanwhile we meet a Christian woman (Elham Shahin) who was treated badly by her husband for six years and then abandoned for three more. Worse, she had to wait five more years before she could obtain a divorce. She is now over 40 and dreaming of motherhood. She has an affair and becomes pregnant, but when she asks her lawyer for a licence to marry a second time he informs her that the Church will only grant her husband the right to remarry, since it was she who requested a divorce. The lawyer suggests she converts to Islam so she can marry, but she adamantly refuses.
Denounced by everyone
A famous TV presenter (Khaled Abul Naga) hosts the singer on his show and criticises her terrible voice. We learn that the presenter feels he is a misfit in society. Everything goes wrong for him, and he tries to escape his unhappiness by drinking. The presenter turns out to be the lover of the Shahin character, but when he learns about her condition he refuses to marry her.
The film does not empathise with Shahin’s character. As in all black and white films, a woman who has a relationship out of wedlock is denounced all round, including by the man she loves but who does not accept any responsibility for her and refuses to marry her.
Personally, I have no sympathy with the lawyers who filed a complaint to the public prosecutor regarding the role played by Shahin. Hers was merely a dramatic role, one that might exist in society but is not typical of other Christian—or non-Christian—women. By presenting the dilemma of a Christian divorcee the film in no way disdained Christianity. It was a great comfort to hear almost all the young men and women among the audience, who said they had particularly gone to see the film because of the complaint, express the same view as mine.
1/0 is a wild and painful story that seems to sum up the pains and troubles of Egyptians, and their hopes and dreams, in a time span of 24 hours. The film portrays people in the quest of happiness, mixed inevitably with moments of bitter misery and loss.
On an artistic level, all those involved in the film excelled and it can certainly be described as one of the best of recent releases.