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.


A starry night at the 40th Cairo Film Festival

Updated 21 November 2018
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A starry night at the 40th Cairo Film Festival

CAIRO: The stars of Arab cinema walked the red carpet at the opening of the 40th Cairo International Film Festival on Tuesday night and there were plenty of glittering gowns on show.

Orchestrated by Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy, who at just 43-years-old is said to be the youngest president the festival has seen, the Cairo Opera House-based event was attended by stars from across the Middle East and North Africa.

Set to run from Nov. 20-29, the festival opened with the regional premiere of Peter Farrelly-directed comedy drama “Green Book,” starring US actors Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

The festival will include 16 world premieres and screenings of 160 films from 60 countries.

Meanwhile, on the red carpet, Egyptian actress Nelly Karim and Tunisian star Dorra Zarrouk looked glamorous as they posed for photographs on Tuesday night.

Karim wore a black leather dress by designer Mohanad Kojak, while Zarrouk wowed onlookers with an opulent design by Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad. The black ballgown was embroidered with golden flowers and leaves and also featured a daring high split.

Egyptian actress Nelly Karim wore a leather dress on stage. (AFP)



Seven Egyptian films will be screened during the festival, including “Leil Khargi” (External Night) — a film that will compete for the coveted Golden Pyramid Award.

The other Egyptian films on the itinerary are “Garemet Al-Immobilia, “Ward Masmom” (Poisonous Roses), “Kilo 64” and “La Ahad Honak” (The Giraffe).

Other films set to be screened at the festival include “Heaven Without People,” a provocative film that is the debut feature-length work of director Lucien Bourjeily; “Laaziza,” in which Moroccan writer-director Mohcine Besri tells the moving story of Laaziza, a troubled mother who is faced with the difficulty of welcoming back a man who once rejected her and “Fatwa,” which explores radicalization and its horrors.

Egyptian actress Sherine Reda took to the stage. (AFP)



The festival’s jury committee is headed by prominent Danish film director Bille August, who has received the Cannes Film Festival’s Palm d’Or award twice.

The festival has also added a People’s Choice Award for the first time in its history, with the prize money amounting to $20,000 for the film that gets a majority vote from the audience. A new award entitled “Best Arab Film,” with prize money of $15,000, has been added to this year’s festival as well, according to Al-Ahram newspaper.
Signs of a revamp in the festival include the attendance of executives from such international powerhouses as HBO, Netflix, France’s Gaumont, Participant Media and Middle Eastern players OSN, Front Row Distribution, New Century Productions and Aroma Studios.