This Egyptian drama has an enriching human story to tell, but the execution is unfortunately sappy and slight.
Dir. A.B. Shawky
2018 | Egypt | Drama | 97 mins | 1.85:1 | Arabic
Not rated (likely to be PG13)
Cast: Rady Gamal, Ahmed Abdelhafiz
Plot: A Coptic leper and his orphaned apprentice leave the confines of the leper colony for the first time and embark on a journey across Egypt to search for what is left of their families.
Awards: Won Francois Chalais Award, Nom. for Palme d’Or & Camera d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
It’s no wonder that this got a mixed reception at Cannes, where it competed for the Palme d’Or.
The first feature by Egyptian-Austrian filmmaker A.B. Shawky, Yomeddine tells the story of a leper, Beshay (played by Rady Gamal who is disfigured in real-life), and an orphan, Obama (Ahmed Abdelhafiz), who follows the former on a road trip to find his father who had unceremoniously left him in a leper colony when he was a kid decades ago.
They travel arduously by horse-cart, train, and through the charity and kinship of friends they meet along the journey, a lorry that helps them make that final mile connection.
But whilst the performances and chemistry between the two leads (both acting for the first time with no professional training) are undeniably charming, Yomeddine is somewhat marred by its sappy execution.
Official submission by Egypt for the 2019 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.
It’s an enriching story to tell, and in the context of Middle Eastern cinema of recent years, this is a rare feel-good type movie. In fact, the music, possibly the best thing about the film, gives us a continuing sense of unbridled joy and rhythm.
But I suspect Shawky’s script is too slight and conventional to engage more sophisticated arthouse audiences. I found it to be occasionally uninvolving, and even when it comes to the film’s most dramatic moment—a scene no doubt inspired by The Elephant Man (1980)—it feels too mawkish.
If there’s a silver lining, Yomeddine’s accessibility might just interest more mainstream moviegoers to explore cinema from the region.