'From A to B': Abu Dhabi Review

Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Film Festival
Modern taboo-skirting Mideast comedy looks well-poised for local business

A road movie through the Arab world boasts hosts of young Middle East stars

Though Westerners may not get all the jokes, even they will laugh at the familiar-looking silliness of the exotic road movie From A to B, the second feature from British-Emirati director Ali Mostafa (City of Life.) Born to a life of outrageous privilege, three high school buddies from Abu Dhabi traverse the perilous deserts of the UAE, Saudia Arabia, Jordan and Syria to visit a friend’s grave in Beirut. Spiced with strong language, sex gags and even — gasp — two hot girl tourists whose origin is a shock, the film flirts with taboos while prudently remaining on this side of the red line. It strongly connected with local audiences on its festival bow in Abu Dhabi and even more so in Cairo, making its January release throughout the Mideast look rosy. 

The story is set in 2011, during the Arab Spring but before the escalation of ISIS and the war in Syria, making the trip tough but not inconceivable. Young basketball hero Hady was killed five years earlier during air raids on Lebanon, a trauma his best pals can’t forget. They include aspiring DJ Yousef (Fahad Al-Butairi, a noted stand-up comic), the bald and bearded Ramy (Shadi Alfons) and especially the married Omar (Fadi Al-Rifai), who was so upset by Hady’s death he couldn’t bring himself to attend the funeral. Though the screenplay dwells at length on the tragedy’s aftershocks, it’s a weak excuse to set the boys in motion on a four-day car trip to Beirut to work out their past. Chalk it up to Mideast male bonding, perhaps, but the premise is as overloaded as their late-model Range Rover. While it’s plausible that Ramy would leave his cloying mom and pet hamster behind, how could the serious-minded Omar abandon a heavily pregnant wife who needs him, to patch up bygones with the boys?

Though the three young actors don’t exude a lot of onscreen charisma, horsing around together they generate some chemistry, and each character is at least clearly delineated. This is aided by the fact that none of them are native-born Emiratis. The tall Yousef, who is supposed to be half-Saudi and half-Irish, develops a fatal attraction to a leggy tourist (Madeline Zima), presuming she’s American in one of the film’s best jokes. Ramy is Egyptian and a flighty political blogger who tapes himself spouting off on the Arab Spring from the safety of his bedroom. Omar, the estranged son of a Syrian diplomat loyal to Assad’s regime, adds a serious note when he befriends a Syrian girl and insists on driving her to her town that has just been bombed. A dangerous encounter with two policemen (Khaled Abol Naga and Ali Suliman) and later with local militia (Samer Al Masry as the rebel commander) should have taken the story to a dark turning point, but instead these scenes are lightened with laughs and bounce off harmlessly, allowing the story to end on an upbeat note of no great consequence.

Bright sunlight and burning sands give the visuals a flat, monotonous look. There are snatches of catchy songs but no concerted use of music to direct the story.

An Image Nation Abu Dhabi, Twofour54 presentation of an AFM Films production in association with Rotana Film Production
Cast: Fahad Al Butairi, Shadi Alfons, Fadi Rifaai, Samer Al Masry, Wonho Chung, Leem Lubany, Maha Abou Ouf, Yosra El Lozy, Abdulmohsen Alnemer, Ali Suleiman, Khaled Abol Naga, Madeline Zima, Christina Ulfsparre, Ahd Kamel, Nawaf Al Janahi
Director: Ali Mostafa
Screenwriter: Mohamed Hefzy, Ashraf Hamdi, Ronnie Khalil, Ali Mostafa
Producers: Paul Baboudjian , Mohamed Hefzy, Ali Mostafa
Executive producers: Jennifer Roth, Rami Yasin
Director of photography: Michel Dierick
Production designer: Petra Abousleiman
Costume designer: Phaedra Dahdaleh
Editor: Ali Salloum
Casting: Ramy Hamdar
Sales Agent: Image Nation

No rating, 108 minutes

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