Sign in using your account with
Jews of Egypt: Brave Documentary on Egypt's Forgotten Jewish Community
Following a drawn-out battle for censorship approval, Jews of Egypt has finally hit cinemas across Cairo. Gaining recognition from numerous international film festivals, this enthralling portrayal of the seemingly forgotten Egyptian Jewish community that once was, builds on nostalgia and undeniable human anguish.
Director, Amir Ramsis, who personally funded the project alongside producer and co-director Haitham Al-Khamissi, begins the story by exploring the streets of Cairo today. Conducting a series of short on-street interviews, Ramsis questions the public on their knowledge of the large Jewish community that once played a big part in the Egyptian society. His questions receive a number of diverse answers, from one person stating that "the Jews are enemies of Islam in everything" to another asserting that "there is a difference between being a Jew and a Zionist".
The story then moves onto a series of personal interviews with several Egyptian-born Jews, who now reside in Paris, France and one who has chosen to stay. The group reminisces fondly and it is very clear that most still hold Egypt very dear to their hearts. We also learn about the Jewish influence on Egyptian cinema – told in depth by Mr. Abou-Ghar, the author of Jews of Egypt: From Prosperity to Diaspora – highlighting the life of singer and actress, Leila Mourad and her brother and fellow performer, Mounir Mourad, as well early Egyptian cinema pioneer, Togo Mizrahi. Influential businessmen such as the founder of Misr International Bank, Joseph Cicuriel, and political activists, Youssef Darwish and Henri Curiel, also further emphasise the impact that the Jewish community had pre-1950s.
Ramsis is very clever and cautious in how he approaches this rather sensitive subject and mainly focuses on the understanding of the difference between Jews, Israel and Zionists – a blurred perception that the film shows is rife today. Succeeding on many levels, the documentary is well-paced and there is a certain rawness to it – what you see is what you get. In an attempt to take the audience deeper into the story, the director weaves in a compilation of both archived and modern footage of the streets of Cairo and Alexandria and the interviews with exiled Egyptian Jews tie in an emotional connection with the audience.
Unfortunately, the director does get a little lost in the second part of the film, when he turns the focus on the political ramifications that eventually led to an exodus of Egyptian Jews. Although the film touches on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Abdel Nasser's Free Officers Movement, the section feels rushed and only scratches the surface.
Nevertheless, Jews of Egypt still succeeds. Riveting and stirring, Amir Ramsis's depiction of Egypt's forgotten Jews makes this documentary one of the most important and daring films to come out of Egypt in recent years.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.