Khaled Youssef’s latest: Don’t call me please

Film director Khaled Youssef, disciple of late Egyptian moviemaker Youssef Chahine, recently released his latest film, "Kalemni Shukran" ("Call Me Please"), starring Amr Abdel Geleel and Ghada Abdel Razeq. The movie is expected to cause plenty of controversy–among both Youssef’s critics and fans–due to its loose plot and potentially offensive scenes.

The film begins overlooking Ezbet Halima, a shantytown in which struggling actor Ibrahim Toshka lives with his mother and sister. Unable to make a career for himself on stage, Toskha meanders from one meaningless job to another in an effort to make ends meet and get married. A victim of circumstance, he eventually gets himself into trouble with the government, his friends, his mother, his fiancée and even his mistress with whom he has an illegitimate son.

But while the movie attempts to tackle important social, economic and political issues, it does so in a naïve and heavy-handed manner. With the exception of a few laughs here and there, "Kalemni" is shallow and even quite boring at times.

Comically, the film is a near-duplicate of Youssef’s previous movie, "Heen Maysara" ("Whenever"), which featured similar themes: namely, shantytown rivalries, forbidden sex and loose women. It almost seems as if Youssef made the movie with sexually frustrated audiences in mind. 

Abdel Geleel, a staple of most Youssef films, played more or less the same role he usually does: the poor pothead, living in the slums and barely getting by. Unfortunately, Abdel Geleel–despite being a talented actor–has been typecast in this role, which has proven the downfall of up-and-coming actors in the past.

In her fourth movie with Youssef, Ghada Abdel Razeq plays the role of Toskha’s mistress, Ashgan, who provides sexual services for the men of the neighborhood. But her character lacks credibility, especially with her over-the-top cosmetic makeovers. The same applies to the character of Fagr, Ashgan’s younger sister, who performs stripteases online in return for pre-paid mobile phone cards.

In an obvious attempt to titillate male audiences, most of the women portrayed in the movie sport tight dresses with plunging neck lines and full-to-bursting cleavages. They are either ill-mannered sex objects–spoiled commodities to be enjoyed by men–or passive little creatures whose only goal in life is to get married.

Toshka’s fiancée, for example–after turning a blind eye to his philandering–only decides to leave him after finding out about his bastard child. Days later, she gets engaged to the very first suitor to come along.

The only good thing about "Kalemni" is the gifted actress Shouikar, who gives a straightforward yet convincing performance.

Some fear the movie could represent the beginning of Youssef’s fall from grace as the director of so-called "realistic" films. At the end of the day, "Kalemni" is a pretty light movie–one I would probably watch on television, but certainly not worth a visit to the cinema.

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