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.


Manga adventure as Kingdom joins forces with Tokyo studio

Updated 6 min 27 sec ago
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Manga adventure as Kingdom joins forces with Tokyo studio

 

CANNES: Anime, or Japanese animation, has been a favorite with young Saudis for decades and now the Kingdom is about to star in a feature-length production of its own.

Manga Productions, a subsidiary of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Misk Foundation, will collaborate with Tokyo-based Toei Animation to produce a feature film, “The Journey,” which will be partially set in the Kingdom 1,500 years ago. 

Toei, the studio behind animation franchises such as “Dragon Ball Z,” “One Piece” and “Sailor Moon,” will bring top Japanese talent to the project, including character designer Tetsuro Iwamoto (“Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney”) and composer Kaoru Wada (“Inuyasha”).

Manga is keeping many plot and location details secret, but has released a teaser trailer and poster revealing the name of the film’s hero — Aws.

A poster for the upcoming film. (Supplied) 

“The film is talking about old civilizations in the Arabian peninsula — a people who are trying to protect their city from a strong enemy,” Manga CEO Bukhary Essam told Arab News. “The hero has a backstory that no one knows and which will affect the destiny of the city.”

Animation work on “The Journey” will be done in both Riyadh and Tokyo, with 12 Saudis involved in story development, character design, preproduction, storyboards and coloring.  The film will take two years to complete and will employ a production team of over 330 people.

The joint production will help develop Saudi talent so that an industry can be built in the Kingdom, Essam said.

Manga CEO Bukhary Essam. (Supplied)

“Our ultimate goal is to transfer the technology and know-how to Saudi talents so that by 2030 Manga Productions will have the capability to produce animation by itself,” he said.

“Most young Saudis loved Japanese animation when we were kids. We believe it’s time to export our characters and our heroes to Japan and the world. We don’t want to only export oil and petrochemicals, we want to export arts, animation, video gaming and manga to a global audience.”

Essam’s love of anime and Saudis’ passion for the art form helped convince Toei Animation to take on the project.

“It’s not just a movie — it’s about cultural exchange and forming a connection between countries, Shinji Shimizu, Toei’s managing director, said. “Japan is at the top level worldwide, so we can help Saudi Arabia develop its animation industry.

“We Japanese don’t know much about the Middle East or Saudi Arabia, but we know that Saudi people love to watch Japanese animation.”

Manga is employing historical advisers to ensure the film captures Saudi Arabia’s authentic past, while a Japanese team has returned to the Kingdom to scout locations for the production.
 
According to Shimizu, the Japanese team sometimes gets carried away making designs look “cool.”

“The Saudi team will say, ‘no, it should be real.’ We give honest opinions to each other. Everything is being made with the suggestions and opinions of the Saudi team,” says Shimizu. “Japanese people are not familiar with Middle East culture, but as they make animation together, they learn from the Saudi team about their culture, language and traditions.

“It’s really fun for them, too. We have differences, but I realized from making this animation together that we’re all just human — we are all the same.”

The film will be released in both Japanese and Arabic, with an English version possibly to follow.

Manga and Toei’s first joint production was “The Woodcutter’s Treasure,” a 20-minute animation based on Saudi Arabian folklore. The team is also producing a 13-episode animated TV series.