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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.
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.