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Egypt in the foreground and background In the Last Days of the City

By Rosslyn Hyams

In the Last Days of the City is an award-winning film directed by Tamer El-Said from Egypt. The movie captures the atmosphere, or as he says, “the soul” of Cairo in the period leading up to Egypt’s Arab Spring experience of 2011. RFI's Rosslyn Hyams talks to El-Said about the two-year-long shoot, recent history and colour. Laura Angela Bagnetto tells us why she loved Liza Azuelos' Dalida.

REVIEW

Peopled with characters and stories personally connected to Tamer el Said the director of In the Last Days of the City, (Akher ayam el madina), the winner of the 2016 Montgolfière d’Or (Balloon Award) at the 3 Continents Film Festival, is cool, calm and collected on the surface. Below the fictional, conversational stories, deeper emotions lie pulsate.

The main characters deal with loss, Khalid (Khalid Abdalla) is searching for something, watching and waiting, an apartment, a lost and hoped for love relationship with his city and with Layla, a lawyer who is looking for a different life. Hanan runs a dance group, buoyant cycling Maryam, one of the dancers, reveals personal grief after losing a parent in the 2005 theatre fire in Beni Suef ,the Mother, is immobile, losing her grasp on life, as a cut flower is a focus for a vanity in the making.

The direct action comes mostly from documentary elements, protest demonstrations, police reactions, a house-demolition in Alexandria, the wild joy of four friends driving around Cairo at daybreak.

The group’s delight at simply being together when they live so far apart in Europe, Iraq and Lebanon as well as Cairo, is infectious. One of the group Fayed is the cinematographer, Bassem Fayed with whom El Said worked extensively on the dusty effect of their colour palette, where bright or cold light occasionally breaks through to play a contrasting role.

Two hours may seem drawn out at times but, In the Last Days of the City, finds ways of picking up pace afresh and taking spectators into a new corner or mood of Cairo and Cairenes. At the end, we’re left with a sense that a friend we are getting to know, has got up and moved on. Part-fiction, part-metaphor, part-documentary, in the way the city as background becomes part of the action, the film shows the growing tension which precedes the violence and chaos of 2011.

Also in Cinefile:

Dalida directed by French director Liza Azuelos, revisits the short and troubled life of the world-renowned singer, from her discovery in the 1950s through to the 1980s. Born of Italian parents she grew up in Cairo then shot to fame in Paris. She died in the French capital 30 years ago, taking her own life. RFI English service’s Laura Angela Bagnetto shares her enthousiasm for Azuelos’ film in July’s Cinefile. The biopic adopts a three-dimensional form in an exhibition of her wardrobe at the Palais Galliéra, the Parisian Costume and Fashion Museum.

 

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