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Wahed Saheeh: Drama About the Perfect Wife and Unrequited Love
Ridiculously translated into ‘A Whole One’, Wahed Saheeh isn’t a romance as much as it is a film about unrequited love.Abdullah (Salama) is the ultimate playboy. He’s also an arrogant douchebag but he’s charming, rich and successful, so girls fling themselves at him anyway. Wahed Saheeh recounts his relationship with four women; Nadine (Basma), Amira (Alloush), Mariam (Raees) and Farida (Yousef). Each one represents a certain aspect of Abdullah’s version of the ideal woman. Nadine is his best friend and knows him better than anyone, Amira’s the only woman he’s been able to emotionally connect with, Mariam is a stereotypical good girl, and he and Farida have great sex. Things get even more complicated as he comes under pressure from his mother to pick a wife and settle down.
Salama is pretty convincing as a charming womaniser with a huge ego; yet his breakdown near the end of the film just isn’t as believable. One scene in particular comes to mind where Abdullah is overcome due to Amira’s disappearance and is ranting and raving to a very sympathetic Nadine. We’re told that Abdullah’s absolutely distraught yet it’s Nadine that looks like she’s just lost the love of her life.
Basma as Nadine is the film’s undisputed highlight. She’s Abdullah’s best friend who happens to be going through a divorce for reasons she hasn’t made him privy to. She does her best to set Abdullah up with her cousin Mariam, whom he takes a fancy to due to her pure, sweet, feminine demeanour. Through Mariam and Amira’s arcs, the film succeeds in critiquing Egyptian society on two fronts.
Firstly, Abdullah and Mariam signify the double standard in our society, where the woman has to be as pure as the driven snow while the man can sleep around. It’s quite clear that Abdullah never loved Mariam or viewed her as his equal; he’s just been conditioned into believing that he’s entitled to a wife like her.
Secondly, Amira’s arc deals with the problems facing interfaith relationships. As a devout Christian, she deals with this problem on two fronts, once in the capacity of Abdullah’s girlfriend and another as the daughter of a man who converted to Islam to marry a Muslim woman. She wants to be with Abdullah but he doesn’t want to go against her religion or subject her kids to the kind of pain and confusion that her dad put her through.
The weakest link character-wise is Youssef’s Farida. She’s a married society wife/doctor who has commissioned Abdullah to work on a project with her. They begin an affair and suddenly this very assertive woman turns into a grovelling idiot when Abdullah throws one of his tantrums. In an unhappy marriage with a gay man that nonetheless afforded her riches, her arc tries, rather shallowly, to explore the concept of marriage as a business contract and not as a romantic union.
The film’s soft focus quality adds to the film’s overdramatic nature, yet the liberal use of US Top 40 songs is really jarring. The way the many storylines are juggled is pretty impressive. The characters are all connected by Abdullah but we also get to know about their lives away from him. And while the extensive use of voiceover manages to cram in a lot more about the characters than would normally be feasible, they still come across as rather shallow and their storylines occasionally become stereotypically melodramatic.
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.