On the back of the recent degradation of the Oscars ceremony that has turned into an annual gathering to denounce politicians and hail minorities rather than celebrating quality art, Cannes Film Festival has been solely taking the stage of the cinematic scene, exhibiting the dexterities of aspiring artists. In addition to offering filmmakers the platform to showcase their work to the world, the historic prominence of this glamorous event acquires its films abundant renown and recognition, especially the titles that make it to the festival’s main competition, Palme d’Or. Despite the scarcity of the Middle Eastern productions that are usually featured in such contest, this year has finally marked Egypt’s debut amongst the productions of Palme d’Or, with director Abo Bakr Shawki’s Yomeddine catching the world’s eyes and making history on behalf of Egyptian filmmakers.
Highlighting the bitterness of leprosy, Yomeddine is centered on a 40-year-old man named Beshay, who dwells in the leper colony after recuperating from the disfiguring disease. However, his life is altered in the wake of his wife’s death, which had him step outside the colony for a chance to reunite with his family in Qena. Accompanied by a young Nubian kid named Obama, and his donkey that he calls Harby, Beshay sets off his expedition across Egypt, where he experiences the facets of life for the first time on his quest for reminiscence, self-discovery and serenity.
Usually, filming real-life stories that trigger one’s emotions, as the one depicted in Yomeddine, dictates filmmakers to frame their articulations in the most genuine way possible, and what’s a better way to attain that than casting an actual ex-leper to impersonate Yomeddine’s lead role? Rady Gamal, who portrays the film’s protagonist Beshay, is a regular inhabitant of the leper colony, and upon encountering the film’s director Abo Bakr Shawki, he was selected to star in the project, which marks his first on-screen appearance. Similarly, this film marks the first cinematic experience for Ahmed Abd El-Hafez, who plays Obama in the film. Such casting choices spoke of the director’s vision of delineating the movie’s topic without dramatic exaggerations or over-the-top performances, which was made evident in the film.
Kicking off the film, the first act introduces us to Beshay, whose first handshake with the audience in the opening scene takes place in a trash repository, where he rummages for junk and sells them for a living. The introduction then continues, showcasing his house and friends as well as the colony’s facilities. However, this act was abruptly halted with Beshay suddenly manifesting firm intentions to reconnect with his past and reconcile with his family. Albeit marking the start-off of the road trip’s enticing chapters, this pivotal turn was rashly sneaked into the proceedings as it lacked the concrete basis for its presentation.
On the other hand, the second act of the film was the most exquisite interval as we got to experience the ups and downs of Beshay while examining the lives of the underprivileged segments that our main characters encounter. From Islamist groups to beggars and swindlers, the filmmaker has adequately examined the diversity of the destitute citizenry, utilizing them as the main key drivers of drama as they come across Beshay, taken aback by his facial and physical deformities. Additionally, this extensive exposition of the society’s strata has effectively yielded a couple of comedic sequences that were perfectly integrated in the film’s atmospheres, aided by the liveliness and spontaneity of Beshay’s character. The main issue, however, was the low-paced rhythm of the film towards its latter chapters. While this has played a major role in authentically conveying reality to the big screen, these intervals might have benefited from a more kinetic flow.
In addition to raising awareness about leprosy and the hardships of those who survived it, the film’s story crosses paths with the palpable plight of outcasts who can’t fit in the society, and that was icing on the cake. Through the ancillary stories that depict their sufferings, the film has raised the bar high by framing relatable experiences that can touch all human beings regardless of their backgrounds, which had it trespass plainly-structured sympathy-begging dramas to become a universal 100-minute journey that everyone can relate to.
The poignant gist of Yomeddine is the project’s most vital pillar, and rendering the evocative script into film was mainly due to the diligence of director Abo Bakr Shawki and the lovable Rady Gamal. Impersonating Beshay in a remarkable performance, Rady has ably managed to depict the dimensions of his character with its liveliness, persistence and amiableness that instantly tug on your emotions. Additionally, the aforementioned traits of Beshay have provided a fertile environment to infuse the film’s proceedings with inspiring vibes as we eye our disfigured protagonist stepping out of his comfort zone, struggling to attain his goal despite being harshly hindered by malicious individuals and a hostile society.
Orchestrating his first feature film Yomeddine, director Abo Bakr Shawki has surely made a name for himself amongst witty directors, having his cinematic debut land in Cannes. In addition to scripting the film and walking the first-time actors through their lines, the directorial aspects that Yomeddine imbibes speak of Shawki’s finesse that promises a distinguished filmmaker whose work can smoothly elicit the purest of feelings. In his framings, Shawki has embraced subtlety, employing it as an eminent factor throughout the film to visualize the story without intricate visuals or confusing camera movements. He has also enriched his frames with a handful of wide shots to project the charms of Egypt’s Middle Eastern nature onto the screen, yielding flamboyant portraits of towering palm trees, sandy landscapes and the graceful Nile River embracing the Pharaonic lands. With beautiful dialogues and bona-fide characters, Yomeddine surely marks a blissful outset for Shawki’s filming career. Kudos to Shawki!
After 5 years in the making, Yomeddine is certainly a success story to all those who partook in its creation process as it sheds light on a vital topic through its moving story and affable visuals. Although the film could’ve offered us an impeccable experience if it has handled some script-related issues differently, it definitely veers far from the conventions of local flicks, which had it attain gobs of praises and acclaims, and it’s definitely worth your time.