Film Review: Ponderous plotting damages Egyptian drama ‘Poisonous Roses’

A still from the movie 'Poisonous Roses'. (Image Supplied)
Updated 24 October 2018
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Film Review: Ponderous plotting damages Egyptian drama ‘Poisonous Roses’

MALMO: Set in the squalor of Cairo’s sweltering, stinking tanneries district, “Poisonous Roses” tells the story of a sister so devoted to her brother that she would sabotage his future happiness to keep him near.

A fictional follow-up to his acclaimed 2011 documentary “Living Skin,” Ahmed Fawzi Saleh’s debut feature is a bold creation that eschews conventional Egyptian cinema tropes to champion the heroic fortitude of the country’s underclass.

Yet these laudable motives are undermined by ponderous plotting and unconvincing characterization that leaves the film hollow and with questions unanswered.

Saqr (Ibrahim El-Nagary) is a 22-year-old manual worker in the tanneries, while his older sister, the devout Taheya (Marihan Magdy), is a toilet cleaner. Both toil in their unloved jobs, with the tanneries’ monstrous, antiquated machinery and the polluted streams of wastewater it creates a constant neighborhood menace.

Every day, Taheya travels by minibus to deliver Saqr’s lunch to his place of work, an act of kindness her brother seems ungrateful for and the viewer is left wondering why she wouldn’t just give him the food when he leaves their ramshackle apartment each morning.

Although devoted to her brother, Taheya shows him no real warmth, nor vice-versa, in a relationship that’s curiously lacking intimacy. Neither smiles in the other’s presence.

Saqr reveals to his sister that he has met a girl (whom we never see) while Taheya is aghast to discover he’s plotting to leave Egypt for Italy aboard a smuggler’s boat. Desperate, she enlists a magician (Mahmood Hemaidah) to perform a complicated ritual that will thwart both Saqr’s fledgling romance and his departure.

Taheya’s obsessive attachment to her brother is puzzling, although the film is loosely based on Ahmed Zaghloul Al-Sheety’s 1990 novel “Poisonous Roses for Saqr,” which itself draws inspiration from the Ancient Egyptian myth of Isis, who marries her brother.

Yet at Malmo’s Arab Film Festival, writer-director Saleh told the audience that Taheya’s love was platonic and her actions were to protect the only man in her life.

The siblings’ mother is an occasional, near-silent presence while their father is unmentioned and unseen, with the two siblings the only characters of any depth. Although worthy, the film fails to make the audience care about their respective fates.


New Harry Potter prequel ‘Fantastic Beasts’ casts winning box-office spell

Updated 7 min 17 sec ago
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New Harry Potter prequel ‘Fantastic Beasts’ casts winning box-office spell

  • The second Harry Potter prequel came in slightly behind the first ‘Fantastic Beasts’ movie
  • The move has earned $74.4 million in its opening three-day weekend

LOS ANGELES: Again confirming the magic touch of J.K. Rowling, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” took in an estimated $62.2 million this weekend to lead North American box offices, industry tracker Exhibitor Relations reported Sunday.
This second Harry Potter prequel came in slightly behind the first “Fantastic Beasts” movie, which earned $74.4 million in its opening three-day weekend, but it has already scored an impressive $253.2 million overseas. Warner Bros. plans three more “Beasts” movies.
Written by Rowling and directed by David Yates, “Grindelwald” stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander as he works with Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to take down the evil Gellert Grindelwald, played with typical panache by Johnny Depp.
In a rare weekend when neither horror nor superhero movies dominated, second place went to family-friendly “The Grinch” from Universal, which tallied $38.2 million.
The ever-popular Dr. Seuss tale has Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the ill-tempered green title character, with support from Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson and Angela Lansbury.
In third spot, with $15.7 million in ticket sales, was Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the foot-stomping biopic about Freddie Mercury and rock group Queen. Rami Malek has drawn strong reviews for his portrayal of the British singer/songwriter.
Fourth went to new Paramount release “Instant Family,” starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as a married couple who take in three foster kids over the holidays. It earned $14.7 million and has drawn an “A” rating from audiences polled by CinemaScore.
In fifth was Fox’s “Widows,” at $12.3 million. Directed by Steve McQueen of “12 Years a Slave” fame, it stars Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki as a group of women who try to pull off a heist after their husbands are killed in a botched robbery.
Rounding out the weekend’s top 10 were: “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” ($4.7 million); “A Star Is Born” ($4.4 million); “Overlord” ($3.9 million); “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” ($2.5 million) and “Nobody’s Fool” ($2.3 million).