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El Shak: Ramadan Mosalsal Backs-Up Typical Egyptian Melodrama with Substance
In Egypt, there is the ongoing conundrum as to why the betrayal of a man is deemed more acceptable than the betrayal of a woman – despicably, the former is generally overlooked, easily forgiven and sometimes even accepted as part and parcel of being an Arab man.
Penned by Ahmed Mahmoud Abou Zeid and directed by Mohamed El Nakly, El Shak (Doubt) addresses this hypocrisy, and attempts to tackle other societal issues in contemporary Egypt.
The story begins with the introduction of Wasila (Ezz El Din), who we initially discover can't bear children without undergoing a surgery that she cannot afford. Her family, whose characters are played by Raghda, Hussien Fahmy and many other stars, then becomes the focus, with a series of events unfolding and revelaling a string of family secrets. The idea of 'doubt' festers between the family members, as questions of who Wasila's true parents are arise.
The biggest thing about El Shak is the top names attached to the production; in addition to the number of established actors that make up the core of the cast, there are also numerous up-and-coming stars that make the show a veritable carnival of acting talent.
The art direction is particularly notable for its extravagance and uniqueness; however, this approach has also led to accusations of over-indulgence and type of TV gluttony. Regardless of how much was spent – as has been speculated throughout Ramadan – a theatrical over-indulgence like this occasionally works, and it does in El Shak.
The cinematography also plays a big role; filmmakers are often told to treat each shot as if it were the most important of the film – a motto that seems to have been taken to heart by the makers of El Shak. Director, El Nakly, creates scenes that appear both elegant, absorbing and elevate it amongst other Ramadan mosalsals.
In some ways, El Shak encompasses all the classic traits of the typical melodramatic Egyptian soap. The difference here, however, is that for all the heavy drama and flamboyant sets, there is plenty of substance and cliffhanger endings to back it up.
She wakes up from her coma to a husband who she doesn’t remember and parents who are overjoyed that she’s forgotten about their dispute. While Paige’s parents try to bring her back to the way of life that she’d rebelled against, Leo tries to help her remember why she’d left all that behind in the first place. Fighting for a wife who doesn’t remember him and is a completely different person than the one he knew, Leo tries to get her to fall in love with him again.
The film rarely gets unbearably cheesy, setting it apart from your run of the mill Sparks adaptation. It gets mushy, emotional and sappy, but it’s more likely to make you smile than roll your eyes. Leo’s pain and heartbreak combined with Paige’s family’s delight at having their daughter back, gives the film a level of grit that keeps it from becoming overly cloying. However, the secret of the film’s success is the leads, who have great chemistry and manage to pass off some of the cheesiness as bearable.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.