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“I am the son of my mother’s sorrow.” “I forget I have no wings to fly.”
These are among the few spoken words in Kareem Hanafy‘s debut feature, which recently received its world premiere at the Cairo International Film Festival. Gorgeously shot but mostly opaque in its inaccessible, experimental style, The Gate of Departure should prove baffling to even the most intellectual art house audiences and is seemingly destined for life only on the festival circuit. It was the only Egyptian film to be selected for the festival’s international competition.
It begins intriguingly enough, with a sublimely lengthy tracking shot following a young boy and an old woman as they make their way through an old cemetery. The procession of mostly static images that follow have something to do with a mother and a son coping with the specter of death, although the filmmaker is clearly uninterested in the banalities of a straightforward narrative. The characters, and the relationships between them, remain largely undefined, to the point where bafflement sets in.
That said, The Gate of Departure is beautiful to look at, whether the desaturated visuals are relatively straightforward — an elderly woman smoking a cigarette in bed, another woman cutting off her hair — or hauntingly evocative, such as a tear falling from the eye of a woman in a faded photograph. Hanafy succeeds in his goal of creating a poetic meditation on mortality, and the brief running time prevents the film from wearing out its welcome. Rageh Daoud‘s mournful musical score effectively complements the heavily stylized proceedings.
Still, it’s hard not to wish that the filmmaker hadn’t been quite so reticent in offering hints as to the meaning of what we’re witnessing. The film played to an overflow crowd which, although clearly primed at the beginning, became obviously more and more restless as it unfolded. For many of them, it seemed, death couldn’t come fast enough.
Production: Khayal Production Company
Cast: Salwa Khattab, Ahmed Magdy, Amaal Abdel-Hady, Shams Labib
Directgor/screenwriter/producer: Karim Hanafy
Director of photography: Zaki Aref
Editor: Amir Ahmed
Composer: Rageh Daoud
No rating, 65 minutes
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