By Mónica Delgado
Egyptian filmmaker Abu Bakr Shawky’s Yomeddine is a film which starts with a simple premise, or even part of some new age tale: filial love and friendship as supreme values to be rescued. The first film of Shawky seems to have borrowed some ideas from Tod Browning’s Freaks, but with a softer, bland treatment, to show them under the marvelous influence of Disney’s world and its sobering messages.
It is likely that Yomeddine’s presence in the festival is due to some particular African quota in the official selection, but also due to its different vision of a usual element in Cannes: miserabilism or its interest for a cinema of cruelty. If the lead character Beshay (played by Rady Gamal) suffers from leprosy, works as a recycler in a landfill and lives a lonely life in an Egyptian northern colony, there aren’t any situations in the story which exaggerate his condition. He’s only confronted with the real world as exiting the asylum, which still sees the lepers as monsters, an effect that the filmmaker chooses to soften.
Abu Bakr Shawky chooses the road movie format precisely to make his character discover a hostile Egypt, where he has to shout out-loud he’s a human in diverse situations that alienate him due to the consequences of his disease. Accompanied by an orphan child, who he treats like a son, Beshay takes on a journey to search for his family, a journey that the filmmaker composes without malice. Together, they travel through a rural Egypt without money, where they meet some delinquents or religious fanatics, or a gang of freaks, just like him, that takes him back to a brotherhood that is willing to receive him. A world less indolent among peers. This gentle look, surrounded by misery, allows the protagonist to be an object of pity and mercy. But the key isn’t only in portraying this unique friendship (Beshay, catholic, and the Obama child, a Muslim) but in making a social mapping of the country, from north to south, from Christians to Muslims, from abandonment to the finding of a family bond, that includes naps in middle of the Egyptian pyramids, or sun bathing in the Nile river.
Yomeddine is a debut with of good intentions, but little more than that.
Directing: Abu Bakr Shawky
Script: Abu Bakr Shawky
Editing: Erin Greenwell
Cinematography: Federico Cesca
Cast: Rady Gamal, Ahmed Abdelhafiz
Production Company: Desert Highway Pictures
Egypt, 2018, 97 min