‘Ali, the Goat, and Ibrahim’ (‘Ali Mea’za we Ibrahim’): Film Review | Dubai 2016

Courtesy of Dubai Film Festival
A weirdly likable firecracker.

Two misfits and a goat take to the road in Sherif El Bendary’s surreal Egyptian comedy.

A totally unexpected feature bow from well-known short filmmaker Sherif El Bendary, Ali, the Goat, and Ibrahim (Ali Mea’za we Ibrahim) defies categorization. As a back-alley comedy that transforms itself into a road movie, it’s a colorful firecracker about how a trio finds friendship and self-acceptance. The fact that one of the main characters is an animal who is telepathic and possibly magical sets it apart from run-of-the-mill Egyptian comedies. Still, this Egypt-UAE-France-Qatar co-production has a prominent dark side and isn’t a children’s film at all. Its sophisticated characterization could open the door to select international art film audiences, but without a clear raison d’etre, this strangely likable comedy will have trouble breaking out of the festival circuit after its premiere at Dubai.

Written by Ahmed Amer and based on an idea by filmmaker Ibrahim El Batout, Ali is a surprisingly whimsical feature debut for El Bendary, who has been making award-winning shorts like Rise and Shine and At Day’s End for the last 10 years. He currently is directing a controversial, multi-episode drama for Egyptian TV about the Muslim Brotherhood, a high-profile project that has raised considerable interest. In Ali one can almost feel him taking a breather from politics and social issues as he describes the difficulties of two young men from the slums whose lives intersect by chance.

We meet crazy Ali (Ali Sobhy) one sultry night out joy-riding in Cairo with his friends in a hippie van. He’s just bought an oversize teddy bear for his girlfriend Nada, but the police tear it apart looking for drugs. They get away, but the tension rises again when they rescue a hooker from violence in an act of derring-do that ends in more violence. All of this is colorful background to the revelation scene when Ali returns home to his mother and Nada. The latter turns out to be a coyly fetching white goat that Ali is madly in love with.

In interwoven snatches of a second backstory, we find good-looking Ibrahim (Ahmed Magdy of The Preacher), a talented musician working as a sound man and living with his deaf grandfather. Years ago, the old man deliberately deafened himself to keep from going crazy with the screeching feedback in his ears — the same noise affliction that led his daughter, Ibrahim’s mother, to commit suicide. Now Ibrahim is suffering from the same malady. His noise attacks are heard in expressive full-volume scenes that would drive the viewer mad, too, if they went on any longer.

Ali and Ibrahim meet in the office of a local healer, who diagnoses Ali’s goat fixation and Ibrahim’s noise attacks as “curses.” To cure themselves, they are instructed to throw magical stones into Egypt’s three great waterways — the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Nile. Ibrahim is doubtful but desperate, and Ali is forced to try the cure by his mom. So off they go, with Nada in tow, to Alexandria and the Sinai, scrapping all the way.

The improbable tale is held together principally by Sobhy as the nutty goat-lover, whose inner workings eventually make a little more sense. A street theater actor, mime and acrobat, he brings a wildness to the role that contrasts with Magdy’s good-hearted, tormented musical genius. Nada, played by several different small goats, is a scene-stealer.

Venue: Dubai Film Festival (Muhr Feature)
Production companies: Film Clinic, Arizona Films in association with MAD Solutions

Cast: Ali Sobhi, Ahmed Magdy, Salwa Mohamed Aly, Nahed El Sebai
Director: Sherif El Bendary
Screenwriters: Ahmed Amer from an idea by Ibrahim El Batout
Producers: Mohamed Hefzy, Hossam Elouan
Co-producer: Guillaume de Seille
Associate producer: Daniel Ziskind
Director of photography: Amr Farouk
Production designer: Ahmed Fayez
Costume designer: Reem El Adl
Editor: Emad Maher
Music: Ahmed El Sawy
World sales: MAD Solutions

Not rated, 92 minutes