Egyptian actor Ahmed Helmy knows his craft and cares about it. The actor, known for picking original ideas and developing a well-made film from them, has his latest project “Assal Esweed” (Molasses), in Egyptian cinemas now to be screened, and thus far Helmy is staying consistent in his work with recieving rave reviews.
In his current film out in theatres, Helmy plays “Masry el-Arabi,” or the Egyptian Arab, a native Egyptian who moved to the United States in his early years, later to return to his mother country in search of his roots, carrying nothing much but a camera, an American passport and a vague memory in his mind of what used to be his childhood playground.
Faced with possibly every con thrown into foreigner’s faces when they come to Egypt, Masry eventually figures out his American passport is the only thing that will bring him respect on Egyptian soil. Indeed, his passport grants him the rights he had longed for, but these don’t come without consequences.
“Masry el-Arabi” takes the form of a great satire that brings humor to the screen while refraining from the usual cliches of Egyptian cinema: oneliners from hash-smoking characters, unbearable love-story arcs, or cackling super-villains.
Instead the characters in the film resemble average Egyptians that everyone comes across daily, displaying all their flaws and virtues. The taxi driver is a typical example, whose character switches from the swindler to the saved when Helmy stands up for him against a corrupt policeman that unfairly files him a traffic ticket.
Throughout the film, the plot emphasizes Egyptians being kind at heart; delivering the message that misconduct is not among their genuine traits, and there is truly no place like Egypt; with all its contradictions and flaws.
Symbolism is used throughout the movie in crisp, quick-to-swallow spouts. When a police dog starts barking at Masry, he simply waves his American passport and silences the animal.
The soundtrack, with fresh, well-picked songs (lyrics by Baghat Amar and vocals by Reham Abdul Hakeem), runs in sync with the storyline. The film also features cameos from a variety of young, prominent actors that add some vibrancy to the screen.
As the first half of the film is witty, smart and well-planned, the second half suffers from various drawbacks.
The plot eventually turns into a morality play with the characters delivering speeches about the Egyptian mentality and all its controversies, featuring topics that range from passive aggression to ubiquitous apathy, an affliction that can only be solved by divine intervention. Helmy takes this opportunity to attack the socio-economic status of Egypt; an underlying cause for the negative behavior seen in Cairean society.
“Masry el-Arabi” is ultimately another satiric comedy that allows Egyptians to watch their daily pain on the screen and laugh it off. It leaves movie-goers with a knowledge that without a negative side, Egyptian society would not be so beautiful or intimate.