The backstory of Like a Matchstick is almost more intriguing than the film itself. This raucous Egyptian comedy, which received its world premiere at the Cairo International Film Festival, marks the feature debut for its writer-director Hussein Al-Imam, a popular Egyptian actor, musician and television personality. He conceived it as a tribute to his father, the acclaimed and highly prolific director Hassan Al-Imam, and uses copious amounts of footage from his ’50s era films. But Hussein died earlier this year at the age of 63, so the film had to completed by his own son Youssef. It marks a collaboration among three generations, adding a poignant subtext to the otherwise zany proceedings.
The filmmaker also plays the lead role in this comedy set in 1950 Cairo, evoked early in the proceedings via archival footage. He’s Wahid Ezzat, a drug dealer who learns about a hidden treasure while serving a prison sentence. Upon his release he manages to retrieve it, using the funds to start a successful nightclub with which to operate his illicit activities. The rest of the storyline is far too convoluted to explicate, but it’s perfectly in keeping with film noir tradition in which often incomprehensible plots are secondary to mood and atmosphere.
The black-and-white film deftly interweaves its original material with footage from several of Hassan Al-Imam’s ’50s era melodramas, often dubbed with new comic dialogue in an effect recalling Woody Allen‘s similarly styled What’s Up, Tiger Lily? It all works to highly amusing effect, such as in a fight scene in which one of the combatants frustratingly complains, “Take off your fez! Have you glued it on?” Throughout it all, the late actor delivers a hilariously deadpan performance and is ably supported by a bevy of glamorous female co-stars.
Full appreciation of the film will necessarily depend on a familiarity with decades-old Egyptian cinema, but that proved no problem at the packed festival screening during which the crowd laughed uproariously and shouted appreciation at the appearances of long-gone stars of its golden age of cinema. Although unlikely to travel well outside of its native country and nearby territories, Like a Matchstick should prove hugely popular upon its domestic commercial release.
Cast: Hussein Al-Imam, Sahar Ramy, Hind Rustom, Taen Hamama, Magda El-Khatib
Director/screenwriter/producer/composer: Hussein Al-Imam
Director of photography: Mohamed Hamdi
Editor: Zakaria Amer
Costume designer: Sahar Ramy
No rating, 85 minutes