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Taraf Talet: Ramadan Thriller
Three friends, all of whom have a very punch first, think later approach to life, work as hired guns for a big time thug. When they start to get angsty over their pay, they find themselves on the wrong end of his wrath.
As the title implies, the show takes place post Jan 25 and focuses on Egypt’s number one national treasure; baltageya (thugs). It’s an attempt to humanize them and to paint them as complex individuals and not the shadowy creatures that hysterical rumours have made them out to be. From this angle, it actually works. We spent some time actually puzzling over the choice of title until it suddenly clicked that the three leads were supposed to be baltageyya and not your run of the mill criminals. These are the people we hear about on the news disrupting protests and poll stations, kidnapping people, stealing their cars, etc. Refreshingly though, it takes a balanced approach to the thugs without either demonising or making excuses for them.
The show stars Karara as Mimi, Abdel Moghny as Dibo and Youssef as Youssef; the same trio who starred in Mowaten X together last year. Despite the fact that their actions can occasionally be quite awful and their cavalier attitude to violence is rather disturbing, the actors play their parts with a nuance that prevents these traits and deeds from defining them. The material they’re given helps us to get to know the leads and their friends and family so well that you barely see them as petty criminals let alone baltageya since the show humanises them so much.
The supporting cast, which is mostly female, is also packed with good actors with El Shirbeeny and Raeis being the two main standouts. Shockingly enough, the show features a couple of present and former belly-dancers who unapologetically like their work, weren’t forced into it due to an abusive father/partner and who don’t treat their job title as a euphemism for hooker. It’s a complete break from the norm and a thing of beauty. Of course to balance it out, the majority of the female characters so far both think and speak almost exclusively about men and marriage.
Taraf Talet does a great and pretty entertaining job of weaving the political events into a dramatic structure without being too heavy on the clichés; it rightfully focuses on telling the story and not on thinly veiled political analysis.
Harrelson has a starry supporting cast backing him up made up of the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube, Ben Foster and Robin Wright Penn. Brie Larson plays Dave’s daughter Helen, and after him, she’s the best thing about the film. The relationship between the two runs on hate and scorn mixed with a twisted kind of love. It brings to mind the saying about how blood is thicker than water. How you can hate a family member so much and see them for the worthless scum that they are, yet still allow their opinions and words to affect you. It’s a toxic relationship, one of many in the film, yet it packs a punch that the others don’t.
The story is occasionally difficult to keep track of as it jumps abruptly from one topic to another, but Dave’s internal conflict is more compelling than anything the story throws at you. Dave and Helen’s scenes together are far more powerful and infinitely more interesting than any of the scenes in which he brandishes a gun or kicks a guy to a bloody pulp. The film has some fine camera work; it forgoes flashiness just for the sake of it and instead focuses on bringing the viewer in closer to the actors. It works with the actors to set the scenes’ mood instead of just framing them.
Following her biographical documentary of the late playwright, Andrea Dunbar, in the 2010's The Arbor, Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant is by no means an easy watch. Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name, the latest effort from the British writer-director comes as a distressing and soulful throwback to a time when life was unforgiving and growing up was no easy task.
Set in the abandoned industrial fields of Northern England, The Selfish Giant follows the lives and shenanigans of thirteen-year-old, Arbor (Chapman), and his less courageous best pal, Swifty (Thomas). Arbor suffers from what appears to be an Oppositional Defiant Disorder and as a result, he is feisty, unpredictable and often uncontrollable, while Swifty, despite his towering presence, is the more placid of the two and tends to serve as the only voice of reason.
Growing on the impoverished streets of Bradford hasn’t been easy and the boys, whose unbreakable bond is the only things that keeps them going, are desperate to eke out a living and somehow offer a helping hand to their equally struggling families. After being expelled for fighting school-yard bullies, the boys come across some stolen copper wiring cables – which they recover from the nearby railway tracks – and decide to sell it to iffy local scrap-yard owner, Kitten (Gilder).
After their successful transaction, the boys are quickly lured into working for Kitten full-time as scrap metal collectors. However, Arbor is unfulfilled and soon persuades Swifty, who begins taking a liking into Kitten’s racing horse, into joining him in new – and seemingly dangerous –heists.
Much of the film’s success lies with its two unbelievably likable first-time stars, whose brutally honest and deeply-layered performance offer an incredible amount of weight to what is a pretty straightforward story. Chapman, as the foul-mouthed, thick-accented Arbor is utterly infectious, while Thomas, as his taller and softer shadow, is just as compelling.
The sun never shines in Barnard’s The Selfish Giant and there’s a lot of feelings of hardship o be found at its core; but thanks to the wonderful cinematography – where a blue-grey palate dominates over proceedings – and captivating performances, there’s also very particular beauty, and hope, to be found below the desolation.