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

A still from the movie 'Poisonous Roses'. (Image Supplied)
Updated 24 October 2018

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.


Did Neanderthals bury their dead with flowers? Iraq cave yields new clues

The bones of a Neanderthal's left hand emerging from the sediment in Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq, is seen in an undated photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 49 min 29 sec ago

Did Neanderthals bury their dead with flowers? Iraq cave yields new clues

  • Remains of 10 Neanderthals - seven adults and three infants - were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior and diet of this species

WASHINGTON: A Neanderthal skeleton unearthed in an Iraqi cave already famous for fossils of these extinct cousins of our species is providing fresh evidence that they buried their dead — and intriguing clues that flowers may have been used in such rituals.
Scientists said on Tuesday they had discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago. The individual — dubbed Shanidar Z — was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.
The cave was a pivotal site for mid-20th century archaeology. Remains of 10 Neanderthals — seven adults and three infants — were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior and diet of this species.
Clusters of flower pollen were found at that time in soil samples associated with one of the skeletons, a discovery that prompted scientists involved in that research to propose that Neanderthals buried their dead and conducted funerary rites with flowers.
That hypothesis helped change the prevailing popular view at the time of Neanderthals as dimwitted and brutish, a notion increasingly discredited by new discoveries. Critics cast doubt, however, on the “flower burial,” arguing the pollen could have been modern contamination from people working and living in the cave or from burrowing rodents or insects.
But Shanidar Z’s bones, which appear to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960, were found in sediment containing ancient pollen and other mineralized plant remains, reviving the possibility of flower burials. The material is being examined to determine its age and the plants represented.
“So from initially being a skeptic based on many of the other published critiques of the flower-burial evidence, I am coming round to think this scenario is much more plausible and I am excited to see the full results of our new analyzes,” said University of Cambridge osteologist and paleoanthropologist Emma Pomeroy, lead author of the research published in the journal Antiquity.

COGNITIVE SOPHISTICATION
Scholars have argued for years about whether Neanderthals buried their dead with mortuary rituals much as our species does, part of the larger debate over their levels of cognitive sophistication.
“What is key here is the intentionality behind the burial. You might bury a body for purely practical reasons, in order to avoid attracting dangerous scavengers and/or to reduce the smell. But when this goes beyond practical elements it is important because that indicates more complex, symbolic and abstract thinking, compassion and care for the dead, and perhaps feelings of mourning and loss,” Pomeroy said.
Shanidar Z appears to have been deliberately placed in an intentionally dug depression cut into the subsoil and part of a cluster of four individuals.
“Whether the Neanderthal group of dead placed around 70,000 years ago in the cave were a few years, a few decades or centuries — or even millennia — apart, it seems clear that Shanidar was a special place, with bodies being placed just in one part of a large cave,” said University of Cambridge archaeologist and study co-author Graeme Barker.
Neanderthals — more robustly built than Homo sapiens and with larger brows — inhabited Eurasia from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains from about 400,000 years ago until a bit after 40,000 years ago, disappearing after our species established itself in the region.
The two species interbred, with modern non-African human populations bearing residual Neanderthal DNA.
Shanidar Z was found to be reclining on his or her back, with the left arm tucked under the head and the right arm bent and sticking out to the side.