Cairo Exit - Tribeca Film Festival Review
By Ron Wilkinson Jun 16, 2011, 16:18 GMT
A powerful account of life in contemporary Cairo, this raw drama about a pair of star-crossed lovers... ...more
Take a walk in the unforgiving streets of Cairo in this unvarnished look at human survival.
“Cairo Exit,” the latest by director Hesham Issawi, screened at the Tribeca Film Festival this year and was well received. The film tells the story of two women who have reached a crisis in their lives.
The crisis is that they have to get married. This occasion usually is accompanied by a certain amount of joy, or perhaps resignation, in the western world. However, to these two it is another crisis to be dealt with.
First roadblocks and searches, now they have to satisfy the needs of Middle-Eastern tradition and their husbands to be. The problem is two-fold. The first problem is how to raise the money for the dowry and wedding accessories and the second is how to become a virgin.
Becoming a virgin in the Middle East is not nearly as difficult as putting toothpaste back into the tube, as some in the West would believe. It is just a matter of an operation. A minor operation, but one that costs money. The money is not much in Western terms but for these two it is enough to buy food for a year.
Amal Iskander (Maryhan) is an 18-year-old Coptic Egyptian girl planning to wed her Muslim boyfriend Tarek (Mohamed Ramadan). Pre-Arab Spring Egypt is a rotten place to live for most of its citizens. It is interesting to note that this film was made when Mubarak was still in power---an official had to be paid off to secure a driver’s license.
The Coptic Christians and the Muslims live in begrudging mutual tolerance reinforced by the day-to-day quest for survival. When Amal tells Tarek she is pregnant this presents a raft of unexpected problems and live-changing decisions.
Tarek’s planned risky, illegal escape to Italy might well result in his death, leaving the child without a father. This is the ultimate damning legacy.
Amal takes a chance by borrowing the decrepit scooter from the local junk-food palace and then watches helplessly as two street thugs ride it off into the distance. Now she is without money and at the mercy of the poverty crazed junk-food king who depended on the broken down vehicle for his deliveries.
There are no police with any interest in recovering stolen vehicles. In fact, the scooter may never have been licensed due to the high cost of the bribes required to get the documentation. It is easier to own it illegally and hope for the best.
Amal’s best friend Rania is trying to raise money for the operation that will recreate her lost virginity and allow her to marry the prosperous businessman who will provide for her. She does not like the man, who offers little in the way of romantic promise, or even human interaction, but she has no choice. It is marry or live out her life on the fringes of human society or as a prostitute on the streets.
Taking a new job that pays virtually nothing, Amal is offered much more money if she sells her body. When she shows up for work she is confronted with her sister’s presence at the brothel. This allows writer-director Issawi to expose the harsh realities of life in Egypt even further (if the audience has not gotten the message, yet).
Amal is pushed to the limit in having to decide between her country and her family and the illegal escape to the West.
The film is well shot and produced. It contains fascinating photography of the side of Egypt the tourists never see. There have been many films before this that explore the incredible hardships of being a female in the Middle East but this one does it better than most. One has to wonder if this situation has changed, or will change, as a result of the expulsion of the ruling regime.
The statements made in this movie should resonate not only in the Western world, but throughout the Middle East as well. The times they are a ‘changing, as Dylan said fifty years ago. Human rights and women’s right cannot and will not be denied by the governing administrations of the future.
Visit the movie database for more information.
Directed by: Hesham Issawi
Written by: Hesham Issawi, Amal Afify and Alexandra Kinias
Starring: Mohamed Ramadan, Maryhan and Ahmed Bidder
Release Date: Tribeca Film Festival Premier April 10, 2011
MPAA: Not rated
Runtime: 96 minutes
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