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Ma’ Sabq El Esrar: Melodramatic Crack for Women
Set in a version of Cairo where a million pounds are treated like change, lawyers go to court in white, mid-thigh skirt suits and middle aged men have shoulder length, Farrah Fawcett hair, Ma’ Sabq El Esrar is actually an entertaining melodrama - and we mean that in a good way. It’s a classic soap opera only dressed up and prettied to resemble the Turkish versions that Egyptian TV fanatic are besotted with; the interiors are gorgeous, the clothes look straight out of a fashion magazine and everything that can possibly go wrong, does.
Ghada Abdel Razek, in a surprising turn, stars as Fareeda; a big time lawyer and mother of three with an amazing dressing room and a wardrobe to match. When her scumbag husband discovers that she’d been cheating on him with her lover Ziad (El Masry), he proceeds to beat her to a bloody pulp - only the first of a series of physical altercations on the show that are beyond horrendous to watch.
On the plus side though, being rid of her husband presents one less obstacle to her living in happiness with her new beau. But for that to happen, she first has to deal with her fresh out of rehab son, Ahmad (Malek), her daughter Salma (El Gheity) who’s in love with a guy out to destroy both her and her family and her youngest, Karim, a diabetic who longs to eat chocolate and ice cream like the other kids. Then of course there are all the bigwigs against whom she wages war against in court and who don’t harbour much love for her.
Abdel Razek is great in a role that shows that she has something other to her repertoire than her sex appeal. She manages to portray a character that pines over a guy without seeming desperate, a mother with a genuinely convincing relationship with her kids and is a fierce lawyer, boss and friend.
Sabry, who plays her best friend and co-worker, proves to be a strong match for Abdel Razek, while Rogina who plays a scheming hooker is mesmerising. El Masry, however, is fighting a losing battle. Firstly, he has to overcome his hairstyle and the resemblance it bears to those of his Turkish counterparts and secondly, his character is the kind that’s just too perfect and caring to be interesting.
Ma’ Sabq El Esrar’s is very female oriented and it’s the type of show that you could watch with your mum or grandma and each would find it appealing on some level - such is the power of a well rounded female character. You just have to keep in mind that the show isn’t exactly striving for realism and is instead portraying a style of life that is so farfetched, it may as well be fantasy.
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.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the man behind cinematic gems like Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Master is unquestionably one of the director’s most dazzling and mesmerising visual compositions to date.
The narrative is centred on Freddie Quell (Phoenix); an emotionally and mentally disturbed WWII naval veteran who is having difficulty adjusting to post-war life. After spending some time in a veteran's hospital, being treated for what appears to be a posttraumatic stress disorder, Freddie is released into the wild. Not really knowing his place in the world, he moves from one tedious job to another; alcoholism and his violent and volatile outbursts – which erupt at the slightest provocation – get the better of him and holding onto a job and finding peace of mind eludes him.
One night, on a scavenge for more booze, Freddie sneaks onboard a party boat. After awakening from a drunken coma, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman); an unconventional and alluring man who claims to be a doctor, philosopher, physicist and, above all, ‘a man’. A man who alongside his devoted wife, Peggy (Adams), has fathered semi-religious organisation, 'The Cause'. Built on radical concepts of rigorous mental analysis, the movement aims to discover some kind of a deeper truth about the origin of human beings. Dodd preaches that everyone is capable of abolishing their 'animalistic' ways and only by reconstructing themselves back into 'perfect human specimens' will they be able to live a free and a fulfilled life. Taking an instant liking to Freddie, and his unsound mental state, Dodd takes him under his wing and Freddie soon becomes the 'pet' project for the self proclaimed 'master'.
It's been a long time since a film this engrossing and captivating has found its way onto the silver screen. Working on multiple levels and focusing primarily on the dynamic between Freddie and Dodd, The Master demands unwavering attention. Each layer of the plot holds its own meaning and subtle metaphors; ones that pose a lot of unanswered questions – it leaves it up to the viewer to digest.
Shot entirely in the rarely used 65mm format, Anderson, alongside cinematographer, Robert Elswit, really pushes the envelope, visually; the dreamlike water scenes and the impeccable portrayal of the 1950's come to life and contribute to the aura of the film.
The towering performances from both of its leads are something special; Phoenix in particular, hangs in limbo, between sanity and partial madness, and delivers a performance of a lifetime. From the slouchy posture to the sunken eyes, he's never looked more haunting. The same can be said for the ever-charming Hoffman, whose portrayal of the enigmatic leader is just as electric, while Adams' quiet presence is eerie and captivating at the same time, as the dutiful wife.
The Master possesses a presence that can't be denied and if you don't 'get it' from the first viewing, its okay, give it another try – it will get you. There is no escaping its hypnotic charm.