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Sarkhat Namla: Definitely Not the Official Film of the Revolution
Sarkhat Namla revolves around the economic differences in Egypt seen through the eyes of Gouda (Abdel Gelil), an Egyptian contractor who was wrongly imprisoned in Iraq. The film tries to address the issues that Egyptians have been faced with in increasing economic difficulties such as the increase in food commodity prices, the rate of corruption and their effects on the Egyptian people.
Upon returning from Iraq, Gouda is disillusioned at the depressing state of the country. With very little to his name, Gouda finds himself in conflict; his sense of patriotism compels him to get involved in the revolution, but at the same time, his efforts to live a comfortable life lead him to become involved in the same type of underhandedness that the revolution is rising up against. Naturally, this inner struggle drives Gouda to extreme measures and consequences.
Originally meant to be a comedy, the story suffers from many elements that simply felt forced. Since it's mainly seen through the eyes of Gouda, you'll get the feeling that his jokes are misplaced. Egyptian films in the last twenty years or so have invariably pulled off adding humour to real-life situations but sadly, it doesn’t work here. It wasn't only the script that was the downfall of the film; but the setting as well.
Sarkhat Namla’s advertising campaign positioned it as the official film of the revolution. This is inaccurate, as it tries to focus on the events that helped in inspiring the revolution. In fact, the shooting was almost completed before January 25th, and when the revolution kicked off, additional scenes were filmed to make it more relevant. This further adds to the mess of the script, as the story seems disjointed. Another contributing factor is surely the fact that it had to be quickly edited after being picked to screen at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Abel Gelil turns in an adequate performance that doesn’t stray too far from his usual style. On the other hand, Youssef fails to shine and isn’t adequately used, appearing intermittently as Gouda's belly-dancer wife. The rest of the cast are distinctly average; nothing more, nothing less.
It’s actually astounding how the film fails to deliver on any of its promises. It’s neither really about the revolution, nor is it funny; the jokes and scenarios are worn out, the parts that specifically talk about the revolution only do so in a very shallow way, and images and footage of the protests are used awkwardly. Ultimately, Sarkhat Namla is a poorly executed film that fails to portray an important and topical subject adequately.
Unable to take the plunge and fully immerse itself into its own pool of ideas, Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime – drawn from the pages of Elmore Leonard’s 1978’s novel, The Switch – is, sadly, neither here nor there.
Set in Detroit, Michigan circa 1978, Life of Crime is centred on inept and useless low-level criminals, Louis (Hawkes) and Ordell (Def), who hope to extract one million dollars from drunken real-estate developer, Frank Dawson (Robbins), for the kidnapping of his seemingly lonely socialite wife, Mickey (Aniston).
The plan seems pretty straightforward at first, but little did they know that Frank – who’s busy canoodling with his young mistress, Melanie (Fisher) at their vacation home in Florida – has already filed for divorce and is now more than happy to use this opportunity to sidestep the obligatory alimony payments.
Now that Frank has called their bluff, things get a little complicated for the hopeless thugs who have clearly not done their research and even more so when Mickey – who is being held hostage at a home of a Nazi-loving fanatic, Richard (Boone Jr.) – comes to realise that her matrimonial bliss has now truly come to end. The deepening relationship between Louis and Mickey only adds fire to the fuel, causing a riff between the two partners, who seem to be running out of both ideas and time.
While the film still manages to serve its purpose and deliver the goods – through a mix of black comedy and slow-burning tension –Schechter, who also wrote the adaptation, plays it too safe; an approach that doesn’t really allow for Elmore Leonard’s distinctive storytelling style to shine through. Life of Crime is not the first Elmore Leonard adaptation – see Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Sonnefeld’s Get Shorty. Unlike those to adaptations, this lacks an edge, leaving it rather placid.
Aniston shines as the lonely trophy wife whose kidnapping – although distressing – also ends up being a one-way ticket out of her isolated and troublesome marriage. The actress, who is not usually seen in these types of roles, manages to show great versatility and the chemistry shared between her and Hawkes is equally convincing. Robbins is persuasive as the alcoholic, two-timing husband while Fisher was deliciously manipulative as the seductive mistress.
Capturing the 70’s era with plenty of polish and charm, Life of Crime is rather forgettable, despite occasionally popping into action – the source material deserved better.
In 2006, John Carney wrote and directed a small indie-romance breakout hit, Once, and ended up walking away with an Oscar for Best Song, a Grammy for its folksy soundtrack and a Tony for its stage adaptation. In 2014, he returns to direct another musical-drama, Begin Again; a joyful and a moving story of music and lost souls which, despite its subtle corniness, still manages to hit the right notes.
Scripted by the Irish-born director himself, Begin Again is centred on Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo); a down-on-his-luck record label exec and self-described “selfish, depressed pr*ck” who’s just been fired from the very same company he helped build. His drinking problems, brought on by the bitter divorce from his wife, Miriam (Keener), and a strained relationship with his estranged teenage daughter, Violet (Steinfeld), doesn’t help his situation much and Dan – who is growing more cynical by the minute – is in desperate need of salvation.
His luck soon turns for the better when he meets Greta (Knightley); a British singer-songwriter who reluctantly agrees to play one of her songs during an open-mic night. Immediately taken by her performance – a soulful Norah Jones-like guitar solo – Dan soon begins to create his own music by visualising the instruments surrounding her playing on their own and very quickly decides to offer the Brit a chance to record an album together.
Greta, who is getting over her breakup with her rock-star boyfriend, David Kohl (Levine) – a self-centred musician who is slowly beginning to climb the ladder of success – was scheduled to fly out of New York the very same day. However, she too is taken by Dan’s enthusiasm and agrees to stay behind.
As previously demonstrated in his magnificently unassuming Once, John Carney once again allows the story to flow naturally; fluid and full of grace, Begin Again never feels forced. Some of the film’s best moments are the quiet ones, where no words or dialogue is needed. Naturally, the music is one of the film’s major components and, although the songs tend to feel a little sappy in the beginning the playlist of indie-folk and pop tunes slowly begin to grow on you as the minutes go by.
The performances delivered by the two leads are incredibly sincere and organic and for those doubting Knightley’s singing abilities will be delighted to learn that the young actress handles her task well. The chemistry shared between her and the deliciously neurotic Ruffalo is easy, off-beat and, most of all, engaging, while Levine should probably take a few extra acting lessons before deciding to make another big-screen appearance.
There is a sense of vagueness and general unpredictability that follows the story from beginning to end and that’s probably why Begin Again works. Modest, grounded and incredibly uplifting, it’s one of the year’s best feel-good film.