Winter of Discontent: Heartfelt Depiction of Egypt’s Darkest Hours
Amr WakedFarah Youssef...
In 1 Cinema
Human suffering is often at the heart of many of Egyptian filmmaker Ibrahim El-Batout’s productions. His 2008’s drama, Ein Shams – a heart-wrenching journey through Egypt’s long-forgotten neighbourhood told through the eyes of an eleven year old girl – captures the director’s passion for this specific kind of storytelling and has led to consistent critical acclaim.
Winter of Discontent is El-Batout’s fourth feature film to date and having appeared in several international film festivals, it’s another to be proud of. The film’s plot lies with three very different and intertwined characters that inventively represent three diverse segments of Egyptian society.
Amr (Waked) is a computer programmer who awakes on the eve of the January revolution and uploads YouTube videos that show the torture that revolutionaries were subjected to by state security forces. We learn – through film’s frequent flashbacks – that he was also a victim of a similar torture back in 2009, and his distraught and hallowed expressions indicate that his personal suffering is far from over.
The attention is then brought on Adel (Hanafy); a merciless and alarmingly creepy chief of secret police who is desperately trying to keep the lid on the mayhem that is now slowly growing by the day. As the flashbacks to the events of 2009 would have us know, he was also the man in charge of the aggressive tactics used by state security and his victims included Amr himself.
The story then expands to a third and vital character, national TV host, Farah (Youssef), who is morally stuck between communicating the truth to the public and dealing with her superiors’ continuous public deception.
Winter of Discontent stays true to its title and shows no mercy in its portrayal of the agonising journey to freedom. Although often strangely spacey and hushed at times, the film is generally well-paced and the chronological dates that appear on the screen ensure that the audience doesn’t get lost between the continuous time shifting. From a cinematography stance, El-Batout’s assortment of meticulous shots of the spaces that his characters inhabit adds an ethereal element to the visual experience – one seldom seen in Egyptian cinema.
As the tormented heart and soul of the story, Waked’s deeply moving and harrowing performance carries the plot – although the minimal dialogue at times takes you out of the mise en scène of the film. As the dispirited TV-talk show host, Youssef unfortunately fails to portray the sincere inner-conflict of her character which is a key theme of the film, while Hanafy manages to deliver a triumphant performance in his portrayal of a man who nobody likes, albeit his unrealistically extravagant lifestyle.
Winter of Discontent brings a rich and a touching study of the human element during the life-altering events of the January 25th Revolution, and although an earlier release on home soil would have resonated more, there’s very little doubt that it won’t be received with open arms. Whether it will be looked back on as having presented new insight, is another matter altogether.