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  Middle East & Africa
New Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival to Add Colour to the Region
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Editor
The first El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt

The first El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt begins on Sept. 22, 2017 and certainly fulfils a pressing need of the Middle East-North African region. At the moment, MENA has just about two movie festivals — at Dubai, which will celebrate its 14th year this December, and at Cairo with a November slot.

Dubai gained enormous popularity for two reasons. One, it has in the course of its longish existence been able to offer a splendid canvas of films – which included some of the latest from the Middle East, Africa and even Asia. Besides, I have also been delighted to find some of the new Hollywood fare that made its way to the Oscars.

Cairo has had its problems, and has been somewhat sluggish, not quite ready to meet Dubai head on.

Lack of competition is always a bad thing, and with the other festivals in MENA having closed down (Doha in 2012, Abu Dhabi in 2014 and Marrakech deciding not to hold the event, which began in 2001, this year), Dubai has had a free run. Not that it has taken advantage of its monopolistic status. I have always found the movies there quite marvellous, the organisation impeccable and the PR team, headed by Alison Wilcox, extremely helpful.

However, at the same time, I am happy that El Gouna is all set to emerge, and I am even more happy that someone like Intishal Al Timimi (who was one of the directors at Abu Dhabi) will head this new Festival in the scenic Red Sea resort. About 30 minutes drive from the Hurgada airport, El Gouna is built along the shore and on small islands, and is known for its lagoons, coral reefs and sandy beaches, doted with palm trees and lined with quaint restaurants.

El Gouna thus looks like an ideal venue for a film festival. Since time immemorial, tourism has been a predominant factor in the choice of movie festival locations. We have seen this in the case of Venice, in the case of Cannes, and even in India – where Goa's Panaji, nestled between the Mandovi river and the Arabian Sea, has been playing host to the International Film Festival of India since 2004.

And for its inaugural year, El Gouna appears to have put together an interesting programme. As far as India- connect goes, Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz or The Brawler will be one of the two works to be screened.

And here is what The Hollywood Reporter had to say about this movie after it was shown recently in Toronto: “Writer-director-producer Anurag Kashyap is back at the top of his game in The Brawler(Mukkabaaz), an unconventional boxing film and love story that offers a barbed critique of India’s much-abused caste system, religious intolerance and the political corruption that permeates society.

A hybrid genre of his own devising combines Bollywood mainstream action and pacing (and length: the movie lasts a full two and a half hours) with art house themes and engrossing characters. Packed with energy, humour, melodrama and fun, it should please Kashyap’s international fan base, even if the story is small-scale and more soberly realistic than his iconic Gangs of Wasseypur”.

The other title at El Gouna with an India link is the Irrfan Khan starrer, No Bed of Roses or Doob. Here is what Variety wrote about it: “Based on a celebrity scandal that shook the conservative Bangladesh society, No Bed of Roses avoids every tabloid ingredient the story potentially holds. Through the director-protagonist’s divorce and the painful rift it causes in his family, the film ponders the big existential questions of why happiness never lasts and whether loneliness is a preexisting human condition.

Directed with an assured and graceful touch that evokes the elegiac tone of a requiem, director Mostofa Sarwar Farooki proves he’s a singular voice in Bangladeshi cinema. With Irrfan Khan delivering another sublime lead performance (while being billed as co-producer), the movie should bloom at festivals and secure a limited release in India, despite some censorship issues back home”.

Here are are a couple of other highlights at the Egyptian Festival. The cinema of Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki despite its deadpan imagery has always sparkled. It may not have a joy-di-vivre, but has a soul that is magically captivating. And, yes, so addictive. But Kaurismaki's latest, a Berlin Competition title, The Other Side of Hope, goes beyond this. Here in this work, he focuses on refugees – still an uneasy subject for a film plot and an even greater discomfort for politicians.

The movie is basically about two men: a travelling salesman, Wikström, from Finland who quarrels with his wife and walks out of home. And he decides to make a clean cut of his life by throwing away his job and taking up gambling. With the money he earns at poker, he buys a dowdy restaurant – where a Syrian refugee, Khaled, who has made his way into Finland as a stowaway in a coal ship, is hired. He is searching for his sister, and in what seems like a wonderful camaraderie, the men at the restaurant come together to help Khaled. Set in Helsinki, Kaurismaki paints the gloom of the times all right, but lifts the movie out of the morose with a dash of hope and positiveness.

A French drama, After the War, which played at the Cannes' Un Certain Regard last May comes from Annarita Zambrano. In her debut feature, she gives a smart, affecting account of how a former Italian terrorist stripped of his safe haven status in France, plans to escape Europe with his school-going teenage daughter. The film is a powerful look at how the violence of political resistance takes a toll on the lives of men.

In 2002, France did away with the Mitterrand policy of allowing convicted terrorists from Italy to remain in France without the fear of extradition. That year, a Bologna jurist, Marco Biagi, was assassinated by a group calling itself the New Red Brigade. Zambrano uses these two incidents to weave a fictional story of Marco Lamberti – who had been a member of the Armed Formation for the Revolution and who had fled from Italy to France in 1981 after killing a judge.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the El Gouna Film Festival)

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Other Articles by Gautaman Bhaskaran
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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.






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