'The Giraffe' ('La Ahad Honak'): Film Review

A faux-profound parable about pregnancy.

Ahmed Magdy's directing debut is an all-night hunt for money to pay for an emergency abortion.

The Giraffe, the feature directing debut of Egyptian actor Ahmed Magdy, wants very much to be a work of allegorical art cinema, and from minute to minute, it looks and feels like one: It is built of long monologues delivered in voiceover or to spellbound listeners; lonely nighttime street scenes in which attractive young people face working-class crises; and a recurring parable about a pair of exotic animals who die before they can find amorous fulfillment. In the end, though, its elements serve a script that's weirdly incurious about the human suffering it depicts. On both literal and metaphorical levels, the pic elicits a response seen in two of its sequences, each of which ends abruptly after a main character mutters, "Huh?"

Amr Hosny plays Ahmed, the male protagonist in a film that's really about one woman (Haydi Koussa's Laila) trying to help another get an abortion. Why is it absolutely necessary that Laila's unnamed silent friend have the procedure before dawn? A peripheral character or two will wonder that as well, and Leila's response satisfies nobody. Probably it's because there wouldn't be a movie without this night-in-the-city urgency.

Laila phones Ahmed, who appears to be a former boyfriend, and says she needs him to help her get money to pay the doctor. He agrees to help, and is promptly hit by a car, leaving him with a head wound. He pulls himself together, though, and makes it to a hospital that, as if in a dream, has been emptied of people. He finds the one person in the place, who stitches up his head while telling another long story about a doctor whose child has died.

The film's somnambulant mood persists whenever its action moves out to Giza's streets, depopulated and illuminated by lonely sodium-vapor lamps. Ahmed, Laila and another friend go their separate ways, each trying to get some cash. All are stymied, though Ahmed finds a promising lead when a friend says he can call in a debt he's owed.

Meanwhile, the pregnant woman spends much of her time huddled in apparent trauma on a bed. Above her, special effects depict a spreading black growth on the walls — it's like mold crossed with diseased blood vessels, presumably representing the fetus she's so eager to get rid of. But what does it represent once it starts to resemble the patterns of a giraffe's skin?

The movie's name refers to a story Ahmed hears while drinking in a park: The last two giraffes in Egypt, we're told, were a male and female living in different cities' zoos. A plan was hatched to bring the animals together so they could breed, but fate kept them apart. And then the female gave birth anyway, like a long-necked, ruminant Virgin Mary.

What this apocryphal immaculate conception has to do with the real woman trying to end a pregnancy is impossible to say. The Giraffe behaves as if its job ends once it puts the two stories together and surrounds them with a bit of gritty street life and blunted-affect performances. Most viewers will disagree.

Production companies: Garage Art Production, Utaco Digital Film, Fig Leaf Studio
Cast: Amr Hosny, Haydi Koussa, Shaza Moharam, Salma Hassan
Director-screenwriter-director of photography: Ahmed Magdy
Producers: Ahmed Magdy, Mahmoud Lutfy, Mahmoud Eissa
Editor: Essam Ismail
Production designer: Mahmoud Lotfy
Composer: Shadi El Hoseini
Venue: Cairo International Film Festival (International Critics' Week)
Sales: Mad Solutions

In Arabic
74 minutes