One of the reasons I enjoy the Montreal World Film Festival every year is because it gives you a view of different parts of the world you might never see or know about. Director Marwan Hamed's follow up to "The Yacoubian Building" is just that type of film. We get a bird's eye view into the underbelly of Cairo, Egypt. This is a world of violence, cramped quarters, constant movement, and constant territorial wars between the overlords.
As a young boy Ibrahim watches his father slaughtered before his eyes at the hands of one of the overlords of the seedier part of Cairo. This is an area in which law enforcers and the government largely ignores and the gangsters, bosses and drug dealers are allowed to divide up the territory as they see fit. The people are frightened of them as they rule like kings.
Ibrahim has to survive in this poverty-stricken, violent surrounding without the guidance of a father. He meets a young girl, Horeya, who he is taken with immediately, but they are forcibly separated as he is not seen as suitable. As revenge a young Ibrahim stabs the girl's father and spends much of his youth in and out of detentions centers. Even as he gets older he never forgets this young girl.
This rough beginning forces Ibrahim into life as a criminal; he really has no other viable choice. As an adult Ibrahim (Ahmed el-Sakka) and his friend Ashry (Amr Waked) work for one of the overlords. Ibrahim and Ashry are delivering a bag of drugs when they are ambushed and the drugs are stolen. Despite his injuries Ibrahim is determined to get the drugs back. He believes one of the men under the overlord Zarzur (Mahmoud Abdel Aziz) has stolen the drugs, so he goes off by himself to forcibly get it back. Impressed by his courage against all odds, Zarzur hires Ibrihim (and Ashry) to work for him.
The film is as bloody as you can get. This is a time before guns were used in these parts of Cairo, so all the damage/violence is done with knives or switchblades. The blood flows from the earliest scenes right up until the inevitable bloody climax. If nothing else it is very 'real'. The way it is portrayed it almost seems like the director is letting you in on secret that not many people know about. This is not the Cairo shown the world.
Amidst all the violence somewhere in the background there is a love story there. The improbable love between Ibrahim and Horeya (Hend Sabri). They have loved each other since childhood and even through their separation and then even after they reconnect, but are still kept apart because Zarzur is obsessed with her. Interesting to see love surviving under these types of conditions.
The seedier side of Cairo really plays a big part in the film. More than a story about one individual living there it really is about that portion of town and how its inhabitants eke out their existence. It is a dog eat dog world. It is a world of secrets, bloodshed, fear, violence, mayhem, poverty, and lack of options.
The film is an ambitious one in that it is not an easy watch, but your time there (it is over 2 hours long) is made worth it due to the great acting from Ahmed el-Sakka and the grittiness/realness of the story. On the other hand, this is not a film for everyone due to its drawn-out and constant violence and length.