We knew El Mahkama was going to be an attention-grabbing blockbuster ever since its trailer got released. It especially caught our attention when actress Jamila Awad posted about her participation in the film and indicated that she would be playing a transgender girl named Alya. Of course, we had to see what all the buzz was about, so here’s our “honest” review of El Mahkama.
El Mahkama, as you would already know from the trailer, is a collection of different stories that all take place within the same court on the same day. It follows the tropes set by similar anthology films like Yacoubian Building (2006) and Saa Wi Nos (2012), featuring a cast of diverse and renowned actors and a multitude of different storylines. It is, however, difficult to bundle El Mahkama with the rest of these cult classics, since, by definition, these movies are made to be attention-grabbing as well as financially lucrative.
We’re going to be judging the different storylines individually. This means spoilers are about to happen, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Regarding the acting, although there were many phenomenal performances in the movie, it was often a game of hit and miss with this expansive cast. A good example of that would be Salah Abdallah who portrayed the grieving father well but was playing him at one note through the entire act. It didn’t help much that there was an unexplained age difference between him and his daughter, played by young actress Mayan El Sayed, that definitely served to confuse us more than engage our sympathy. Speaking of this horrifying storyline, we would like to announce that the best character portrayal in this whole movie unequivocally goes to Ahmed Dash who plays Mayan’s rapist/murderer.
We stared, mouth agape, as this young man strut through his scenes with a swagger that only someone who absolutely knows he will get away with the atrocity he’s committed can afford. The pure evil that Dash delivered on-screen had us equally terrified and impressed. Although you could feel that the creators gave an immense weight to this important storyline that plagues our society, there was an overt dramatization in its plot that would only serve as some sort of an emotional fulfilment tool for the audience. This was particularly obvious in the addition of crowds that were waiting for Dash outside the courtroom’s doors, chanting “Execute him” over and over again. The reactions of the crowd, as well as the court itself, seemed, again, out of touch with the actual Egyptian reality. A pattern we noticed.
El Mahkama definitely wanted to touch base on a multitude of social issues that were brought up through social media in the past few years. Including of course the case of Alya, played by Jamila Awad, a transexual girl who was kicked out of her university even though she had undergone her transition legally. It helped to shed positive light on the legality of transition within our community, as Alya mentioned that her confirmation surgery was approved by a board of credible doctors from Al Azhar. We have many issues with this plotline in particular like the tragic way her self-actualization was tackled, but honestly, it’s a generally positive step forward since no one misgendered her.
Falling into the social justice category is the case of Naglaa Badr’s character, a singer/performer who was facing charges for corrupting society morals; an obvious mirror to the “TikTok girls” case that took place last year.
We applaud the movie for being bold enough to present such controversial stories and letting these characters defend their rights to exist while criticizing the legal system as well as the society that forced them into these situations. However, some of these scenes were hard to watch because they were used so blatantly as emotional tools and usually deferred these issues by shifting the blame or negative connotations to things like religious extremism and homosexuality. It ultimately didn’t feel like the movie was taking any real progressive stance on any of these issues since it was done without any intricacy.
Another interesting storyline was the one involving modern-day “Tar” being looked at through the lens of an educated doctor who is coerced into murdering his lifelong best friend. The emotional range displayed by all the characterizations involved, especially Ahmed Khaled Saleh’s performance, was very engaging and impressive, getting to an intimately vulnerable place we’re very happy we got to witness.
Our main issue with EL Mahkama was that they just didn’t know how to properly and realistically end all the interesting conversations they started. An example of that would be the one starring Fathy Abdelwahab as an immigrant who was charged with sexual harassment. His flashbacks were different from the rest of the characters’ in its artistic and ominous cinematography. We could not for the life of us correlate the war flashbacks that were frazzling this poor man to the charges he was facing, but we were definitely intrigued by it. We theorized that perhaps this was a very real symptom of PTSD which is something usually overlooked when talking about the consequences of the various atrocities happening in the region, as well as the mental health of its survivors. Honestly, any explanation would have been better than the disappointing and borderline sci-fi one we got at the end of that storyline.
If we could narrow down the things we hate the most in this movie, it would be three things: the accents, the soundtrack and the veneers. The accents for all the characters that weren’t Cairo natives were abysmal. Fathi Abdelwahab’s confusing Syrian/Lebanese accent, also Yosra EL Lozy who portrays a woman from a lower-class background whose accent was extremely unconvincing and overdone to a point where it felt like she was making fun of the character rather than portraying her. Almost all the Upper Egyptian (Saidi) accents were a joke. The problem with accents being done badly is that it is an intrinsic part of these characters, and when not given enough care can lead to the portrayal feeling out-of-touch and lacking in research.
The soundtrack to this movie was so stereotypically commercial in its ups and downs from comedic to tear-jerking. It gave us whiplash and made us extremely uncomfortable as well as took us out of the scenes and out of empathizing with the characters. It was like having someone forcefully guiding us through every emotion.
The veneers problem is just obvious, how am I supposed to believe that these are working-class characters when they all have forty thousand pounds worth of cosmetic dental work done!
We think this movie is a great step forward. A commercial movie covering most of these topics is an intriguing idea at least. However, we wish more care was given to each individual story and character.