Titled Coming Forth By Day from director Hala Lotfy (an S&A filmmaker to watch in 2014 and beyond), the film’s first half is entirely set in the suffocating apartment of an old Egyptian man (Ahmed Lutfi), who needs the help of his wife (Salma Al-Najjar) and his daughter, Soad (Donia Maher), for even the most basic tasks, since he can’t even eat by himself or walk. The mother also works at a hospital and has just changed her working hours and now needs to work nights, which means that during the day, she sleeps and the care for the man of the house falls entirely on Soad. Scenes of feeding the father, taking care of his bed sores or changing his bedding are set in the penumbral apartment, which has its shutters closed. For most of the time, it’s not even clear what time of the day it is, only that all of Soad’s time is occupied by just looking after her father.
The camerawork by Mahmoud Lotfy, brother of the director, helps underline the claustrophobic nature of the women’s lives indoors.
In the film’s slightly less claustrophobic second half, Soad (and the viewer) finally gets to breathe a little when she decides to leave the house, though she promises her mother she’ll be back soon and will take her mobile phone with her so she can be reached in case of an emergency.
Though finally out of the house, Soad still seems unable to take control of her own life, aimlessly wandering around, talking to an ex-lover on the phone, running various errands, but in no way taking life in her own hands.
It is not only a very accurate portrayal of a possible day and night of a young woman in Cairo, but also a harsh, if subtle, comment on how the heavy burden of expectation sidelines any sense of purpose for Egyptian women.
A look at Egypt unlike much Egyptian cinema prior to it, with comparisons being made to European arthouse films, Coming Forth By Day premiered in the Forum section of the Berlin International Film Festival last year.
It’s Hala Lotfy’s feature film directorial debut, for which she won the FIPRESCI prize in Abu Dhabi, as well as the top prize at the 6th Oran Arab Film Festival. She is also a member of the newly-launched MEDIS South Mediterranean distributors network and recently spearheaded a move to form an independent filmmakers’ union in Egypt.
Lofty was recently interviewed by the Algerian news daily, Horizons. Here’s a sample of the interview worth sharing:
People say that you are a socially committed, rebellious director. We also know that you literally refused that your film take part in the Cairo Film Festival. Why?
First, I would like to stress, at my modest level, that Egyptian cinema and Arab cinema in general should be auteur cinema, films with messages as opposed to commercial films. I reject and denounce the tendency of commercial and entertainment cinema that, for some years now, has taken over Egypt in imitation of Hollywood cinema.
What do you think of Algerian and North African cinema these days?
I’m no expert on the subject, but I do know that after the post-independence period, theatrical and cinematic creation leapt forward in terms of quality both on the national and international scene. These films have been very successful at certain international events. I suppose that, ideally, film professionals should be helped to perfect their know-how, different approaches should be compared, and cooperation should be boosted between creators across the North African and Arab region.
She and a group of other independent artists founded Hassala Productions, which provides equipment and fundraising advice to young filmmakers, and conducts film workshops. Lotfy and others are also forming a syndicate, which aims to break what she calls the film industry “monopoly” in Egypt.
“We are trying to do films that are revolutionary in content, take risks and are adventurous in low-budget form,” she says. “This is how things will change.”
She calls making Coming Forth By Day “an act of resistance, because the film scene in Egypt is so established that it makes it hard for individuals to make a name for themselves.“
And further, “It’s a very good example of how the country lacks democracy. If you don’t have money and aren’t well-connected, then you aren’t allowed to express yourself. But if democracy means anything, it is that everyone is entitled to express themselves, regardless of the tools they choose to do it.”
Hala Lotfy – a talent to watch.
The film that critics have called Egypt’s “best in the last decade” and even “one of the 100 greatest Arabic films of all time,” is finally out in cinemas in its home country. Plans for wider distribution outside of Egypt are in the works, but no word yet on a USA pickup. It did screen at the SIFF (the Seattle International Film Festival) as an African Pictures program selection in 2013.
Here’s a trailer for Coming Forth By Day: