Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Waiting for Better Times" - The Movie

I've never been particularly fond of Arabic cinema. Growing up spoiled by Hollywood film standards, everything in Arabic movies seemed like it was lacking. The plots were thin and predictable, the camera work was poor, and the film quality was reminiscent of American films in the 1970s. There were always some good individual actors here and there, but very few directors who could pull together a whole cast and crew and create something truly inspiring.

And then I saw Heena Maysara, the film by Egyptian director Khaled Youssef that was recently released in the UAE. Translated as "Waiting for Better Times," the movie surpassed all the expectations I had of Arabic cinema. It covered real life in Egypt; showing the extreme poverty and abuse that plagued the lowest classes, government corruption, and the growth of terrorism within the country. The acting could have been better at certain moments and the final scene felt a little flat, but otherwise, the film was superb. No glitz and glamour, no Disney happily-ever-after. Just real, raw life.

The film generated a huge controversy, particularly for its sexual content, with a scene that hinted at lesbianism causing an uproar. Religious leaders at Al Azhar decried the film, calling for the director, as well as the two actresses in the "lesbian" scene, to be prosecuted.

Regardless of what authorities said about its sexual content, Heena Maysara was seen by nearly everyone with access to a movie theater in Egypt and the Arab world. They were drawn to the political and social realities the film reflected, not just the sex that the Al Azhar scholars have focused on.

I strongly encourage people to watch this film. It really changes the way you view Egypt, and with it the Arab world. It's one of those rare cinematic works that creates empathy between the viewer and Arabs, not sympathy or animosity.

I googled the trailer for you guys. (Sorry, but I couldn't find anything with English subtitles.) Check it out, and if you like it, go watch it now!

29 comments:

Sophie said...

It sounds like an interesting movie Nour, but don't you think your criticism of Arab cinema in general was a little harsh? The Egyptian cinematic tradition is one of the oldest in the world, and Syrian television and film work has been acclaimed recently, by critics in the region and critics abroad as well. I understand how you might find it hard to relate to Arab cinema, or easier to relate to Western cinema. I feel the same way. But regardless, I think there's a lot to be appreciated if one were to really dig into what Arab films have to offer. The cinematic style, musical scores, and acting methods used in various Arab films do differ dramatically from the films produced in Hollywood, but I don't think that necessarilly means they are of a lower standard. Also, you wrote that you are accustomed to judging films based on the standards set by Hollywood, but wouldn't you consider that standard to be rather low at this point in time? I take the term 'hollywood' to refer to commercial and mainstream films, and I think that these films more often than not are greatly lacking in everything from their cinematography to their screenplays . I know the point of your post was to discuss an Arabic film that you enjoyed particularly, but I found your comments on Arab cinema in general to be interesting so I decided to comment on those!

matureinsanity said...

I feel the same exact way about the Arab film industry.
My dad saw the trailer and said that the director's a genius!

I haven't watched the movie and probably won't. I'm jst not into such stuff. Plus, I went to Egypt this summer so I got to see the downside and upside to it upfront. I think the lesbianism aspect of the movie might have been included to stir up some -or a lot- of controversy and thereby to get people's attention of course. I'm not so sure if it's a wrong way to go though.

Nour Merza said...

Sophie - I agree with you and I don't. While lots of Hollywood films can be very shallow and "commercial," plenty of good films come out of the American film industry. And I'm not talking about relating to Arab or American cinema, I'm very specifically talking about the lower quality of a great deal of Arab cinema. But then again, not ALL Arab cinema. Movies like Heena Maysara and Nadine Labaki's Sukkar Banat (or Caramel) are really well-made, but I find them to be the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps you can add to not-so-vast knowledge of Arab cinema and point me to some Arab film classics? Or to more recent, well-made releases?

Sophie said...

Nour,

I didn't mean that all American films are bad. I simply meant that in the last ten years, most commercial American films have been of a rather poor quality. I'm a huge fan of independent American films, and thanks to festivals like Sundance and Cannes, independent filmmakers from the U.S. and Europe have a chance to showcase their talent before an international audience. When I said that American cinema was weak, I was referring to commercial, profit-oriented films--and of course, some profit-oriented big budget films are great. But, I'm referring to mainstream movies in general, and what is expected of them these days. The fact that the box office is considered by many to be the measure of a film's success highlights a serious flaw in the film industry in my opinion. Egyptian cinema once reigned as the supreme art form in the Arab world, but its quality has deteriorated. Egypt has witnessed a return to more conservative traditions and values, and what was once a provocative film industry has become somewhat silly and timid. I would suggest you explore the work of Lebanese and Palestinian filmmakers. They are getting a lot of attention in the Lebanese and Palestinian communities. A Palestinian film maker recently screened a documentary about Palestinian underground rap. She screened the film in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon and I heard it was great. Also, a film called Caramel recently came out and I heard it was an excellent film. The Lebanese film festival is coming up (http://www.neabeyrouth.org/en/festival/). You should read up on some of the films that they are going to screen during the festival. I think you'll find some of them interesting.

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