Waves (Moug): Dubai Review

A penetrating film shot with breathtaking lyricism.  

Ahmed Nour’s first feature is a very personal reflection on the Egyptian revolution, which began in his hometown of Suez.

Not many know that Egypt’s ongoing democratic revolution began not in Cairo but in Suez, a once prosperous port on the Red Sea and the hometown of talented filmmaker Ahmed Nour. In Waves, Nour describes his country’s ferment in unexpectedly lyrical tones through a veil of autobiography. The result is a pretty extraordinary doc that freely jumps between color and black-and-white, live action and animation, sweeping the viewer up in its imagery and fierce imagination. It is one of the best evocations on film of the recent events in Egypt and heralds a major new talent on the Egyptian scene. It should be a popular festival pick after its world premiere in Dubai’s Arab Documentary sidebar.

Nour, whose background is in commercials and TV, shows a keen eye for capturing very normal people, like an old knife sharpener filmed in front of a double poster of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. According to legend, a soothsayer told Mubarak that his end would be in Suez, and as a result he never visited the city during his entire 30-year presidency. For Nour, the prophecy has come true: Suez played a key role in the revolution that toppled Mubarak. The first violent skirmishes with police occurred here, in which the first demonstrator lost his life.

The film is structured in five waves reflecting five moments in the young director’s life. The first recounts scenes from his childhood and contains an extended animation sequence; created by a team from Paris, Morocco and Damascus, it recalls two other autobios from the Mideast: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir. Here the visual theme is the crows of Suez, whose great numbers were later decimated by riflemen. But this is also the time when oil brought prosperity and people could swim across the Suez Canal. But the Israeli victory over the Egyptian army in 1967 and the inhabitants' successful resistance in 1973 led to destruction of the city, and the population’s forced migration while Israel occupied the east bank.

In the second wave of the film, Nour questions why Suez, the richest city in Egypt, revolted so violently against the Mubarak regime. His camera captures the fury of outraged citizens screaming bitter complaints about undrinkable water, filthy streets and lack of jobs. A police station that became a symbol of corruption under Mubarak was burnt by protesters in 2011.

The third wave is full of impressive imagery and juxtapositions: sparkling waters, a calm sea and a ticking clock. Nour asks what has changed since Mubarak was deposed. Empty stillness hides poverty and despair, and even the crows, no longer persecuted, are afraid to come back. Fear, doubt and suspicion of betrayal reign alongside newsreels of Tahrir Square in Cairo. There is general fear that the revolution will fail.

Next wave: Nour interviews the devastated family of a youth who was killed in the revolution and describes their sorrow in eerie, painterly images. The fifth wave “is not the last,” he says, interviewing an elderly painter, songwriter and resistance leader who professes optimism. At least Mubarak’s trial of the century has shown that the impossible can happen.

Whether related to nature, landscapes or human faces, cinematographer Ahmed Fathy's images are vibrant and emotionally resonant throughout the film, giving it great depth. The animation scenes from French-Syrian HECAT animation studio are so well done, one regrets they don't reappear later in the film.

Venue: Dubai Film Festival (Muhr Arab Documentaries), Dec. 11, 2013.

Production company: Moug Films in association with San Sebastian Cinema in Motion, Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Doha Film Institute

Director-screenwriter: Ahmed Nour
Producer: Ahmed Nour
Co-producer: Layla Triqui
Director of photography: Ahmed Fathy
Editors: Simon El Habre, Meriem Amrioui
Music: Markus Aust
No rating, 71 minutes.