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Published on February 25, 2010

It's the truth, stupid

Save Mohamed Saad’s captivating buffoonery and Ahmed Mekki’s charismatic hilarity, I would rather watch paint drying than suffer any of the lot of actors purporting to be funny on the big screen. When I was requested to review Kallemni Shokran, therefore, I dragged my feet to the movie theatre, grumbling between my teeth as I expected an excruciating experience based on the title of the film, which sounded way too similar to cheap comedies to allow any optimism. Everything changed once I stood in front of the film poster by the ticket booth and read the director’s name. Khaled Youssef, director of Dukkan Shehata, Heyya Fawda (co-directed by Youssef Shahine) and Heena Maysara, the champion of the disenfranchised who pushes the envelope to tell it like it is, has garnered enough of my respect to completely alter my disposition towards the film I was about to watch just by reading his name on the billboard.

The concept of MobiNil’s “kallemni shokran” is simple: by typing a certain code on your cell phone’s keys and entering the number you select, a message is sent to this recipient asking him “Call me, thanks” without you having spent a penny, unlike a text message with the same information. The service seems based not so much on a user’s sudden running out of credit as it is on the understanding that a huge number of users often cannot afford to recharge their credit for extended durations while still needing to communicate. It therefore places the cost of said communication on the recipient party, hoping he will have credit to initiate the call. By sponsoring the film by the same title as the service, MobiNil has secured itself an even larger share of the masses’ affection, as Kallemni Shokran proved to be another of Khaled Youssef’s attempts at addressing an increasingly spreading, and struggling, layer of current society.

Referred to by some as “the random” (a literal translation of ‘ashwa’iyat), the community represented in this film – a very real, present and growing population – is not merely disenfranchised; it is being disemboweled, from the core, as the challenges it faces for daily survival have become so formidable that confronting them necessitates the eradication of any semblance of honor or virtue. The outcome is a social cannibalism entirely devoid of scruples that transforms the insult wati (lowly, deprived, and dishonorable) into a term of endearment between friends who seem to share an underlying agreement legitimising their reciprocal backstabbing for personal survival.

Although some of the events – played by Ghada Abdel-Razeq, Dahlia Ibrahim, Houreya Farghali, Iman, Ramy El-Gheit and Shady Khalaf – can be heart-wrenching, the plot is strung around a series of hilarious scenes and dialogue. Ibrahim Toshka, the lead role played by Amr Abdel-Gelil, echoes El-Limby’s syntactically dysfunctional speech pattern, though here the distortion of language is actually so sensical that the jumbled words become subversive exploits of cognition rather than stoned ramblings. His chaotic sentences target the intertwined evils at the root of his community’s plight: the educational system, overpopulation, corruption and the nation’s lack of awareness of their very existence, to mention but a few.

Each character personifies both warped ethics largely found among society, as well as remolded notions of morality pertaining to the particular community represented in the film: Toshka, who dreams of stardom, is only disappointed that his face was blurred during his appearance on a television program that fabricates documentary episodes to broadcasts them as the unknown truth. He attempts, time and time again, to raise the dowry money requested by his bride’s father by setting up different small-scale illegal operations for quick gain – never tires, never regrets and, more tellingly, never contemplates the “honest” route. Of interest is the fact that the only entity he harms, however, is one that cannot elicit much sympathy: Toshka tricks none other than the government and the moneymakers sucking the population dry, or those who obey them. For example, he extends satellite cables and connects them to the neighbourhood’s television sets, enabling the diffusion of a high-profile national match they would otherwise be deprived of without paying subscription fees. The officer who comes to arrest him (informed by Toshka’s friend who had paid the subscription and planned to extract LE10 from each of his neighbours who wished to watch), arriving at the opportune moment of a scored goal and cheering crowd, chooses to turn a blind eye and walks away.

The role of the deceitful sheikh, played by Sabry Fawaz, which, according to MSN Arabia, “caused troubles [for] Khaled Youssef [who was] accused of offending the religious person’s figure” was an excellent portrayal of the religious hypocrisy that has spread like wild fire over recent years. When asked why he grew a bread, this sheikh replies that it instantly establishes trust and improves business; questioned over his practice of selling flour on the black market rather than using it all in his bakery, causing the daily line for bread to grow longer and more stressful for the neighbourhood consumers, his defense is that he has no choice if he is to feed his own family.

With three law suits to deal with, this controversial film written by Sayed Fouad opens a can of worms that has luckily seen the light of day, contrary to Khaled Youssef’s expectations when he submitted the film to the censorship bureau. He expected a refusal, or at the very least the dreaded scissors to snip a few scenes out, only to find an approval along with just a +18 tag – which parents are very well advised to abide by, as Kallemni Shokran is not only strewn with nudity and suggestive scenes, but is also quite high on obvious sexual innuendos in the hilarious dialogue.

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