Dubai Review: Chaos, Disorder (Harag W' Marag)

With an edgy, modern style, Nadine Khan offers a pleasurably unexpected view of Egyptian society as a closed circuit world.

Winning a battle with the Egyptian censors, young director Nadine Khan makes a stylish feature debut with a story from Cairo's lower depths.

An edgy, in-your-face sketch of Egypt’s lower depths, Chaos, Disorder can’t help but resonate with the times and thus generated a good amount of critical buzz at its Dubai festival premiere. Director Nadine Khan, a short filmmaker and well-known A.D. (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) whose father is the noted director Mohamed Khan, makes her feature film bow with a story set in a poor but lively Cairo neighborhood, a kind of exotic Bronx where two tough youths vie for a girl and scores are settled on the football field.

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The screenplay was at first rejected by the national censorship board, but after the January 2011 revolution that ousted president Mubarak, was finally passed. Though there’s nothing overtly political in the storyline, it paints a portrait of dangerous dissatisfaction brewing just under the surface of everyday life, so it’s not hard to guess why it would make officialdom uneasy. Without directly referring to the events in Tahrir Square, as other films are already doing (for example, Yousry Nasrallah’s After the Battle or Ibrahim El Batout’s Winter of Discontent), it communicates a strong feeling of a society falling to pieces and people ready to fight at the drop of a hat.

Manal (Ayten Amer) is the local princess, the daughter of grocery store owner Haj Sayyed and an appetizing morsel for her hulking official escort Zaki (Mohamed Farrag) and rival mini-boss Mounir (Ramsi Lehner). Mounir is an attractive young weasel not above playing dirty to win the lady, who anyway has been making eyes at him. When he steals her dad’s cell phone containing a compromising private video, his chances increase considerably. He and Zaki fight it out on a wildly chaotic soccer field to the comical comments of a laid-back announcer over a loud speaker, while the townsfolk cheer them on.

More humorous than threatening, Mohamed Nasser Ali’s raucous screenplay is shot with a non-stop rhythm that leaves a senseless feeling, while its arch treatment of the characters keeps them at a safe distance. The dusty neighborhood on the outskirts of Cairo is inhabited by uneducated, unemployed youth who spend their days bullying each other while housewives push, kick and scream to buy basic necessities like water, gas and vegetables off passing supply trucks. It’s a closed circuit world going nowhere fast, with violence lurking around the corner.

There are a lot of winks at Western movie-making like the cheerful piano scales that introduce various times of day (the action takes place over the course of one intense week), perhaps in a vain attempt to impose some kind of order on the story, and the fact the entire film was shot not on location, as might be expected, but on constructed sets. Production designer Asem Ali has an attractive palette of turquoise and sand colors that give a unified look to the apocalyptic town.

Venue: Dubai Film Festival (Muhr Arab Feature competition)

Production company:   WIKA Film Production & Distributon

Cast:  Ayten Amer, Mohamed Farrag, Ramsi Lehner, Sabry Abd El Menem, Ossama Mohamed Attia

Director:  Nadine Khan

Screenwriter:  Mohamed Nasser Ali

Producers:  Dina Farouk, Racha Naidi

Director of photography:  Abdelsalam Moussa

Production designer: Asem Ali  

Music:  Hassan Khan

Costume designer: Marwa Abdel Samie

Editor:  Dina Farouk

Sales:  Wika Film Production & Distribution

No rating, 76  minutes.