Let’s say it straight up: these lines are not about tackling the subject of the cabal – unfounded by the way – led by a few directors or critics of the Egyptian cinematographic community who believed they were defending the rights of a country of the Nil which does not appear in its heyday in the film Feathers by Omar el-Zohairy, but rather to emphasize a singular and brilliant artistic work. A work whose dimension goes beyond space to reach universality.
In this black comedy, which is reminiscent of the theater of the absurd, Omar el-Zohairy does not paint a portrait of Egypt and its misery, nor a region in particular, since the spectator does not know where to go. rolls the film. It even seems that we are in a no man’s land. The director does not make a social or political observation. This is by no means his goal, he made it clear during an interview during the Gouna Film Festival in October 2021. “I simply make cinema”, he had then hammered. The young Egyptian filmmaker depicts a human drama through a dark and wacky comedy that aims to be timeless. He succeeded for his first feature film in fiction to transcend taboos, clichés but also borders. After being awarded the grand prize at Critics’ Week in Cannes in 2021, and the prize for best narrative film at the Gouna Festival, Feathers continues to glean other awards at various festivals.
Omar el-Zohairy makes a film of atmosphere, of pure emotions, rendered by superb editing, lighting and photography, but also dialogue (so rare and so modest), with simply amateur actors and actresses.
A Kafkaesque metamorphosis
The film follows the story of a housewife completely under the yoke of her authoritarian husband. Living in misery with two young children and a third baby on her arms, she does nothing but repeat the same gestures on a daily basis: washing, cleaning, cooking and serving her husband (shining his shoes, among other things), without making a sound or uttering a single word. This erased and submissive woman, played by Demyana Nassar who had never before played a role in the cinema, is alive but without identity since she bears the simple name of Oum Mario (Mario’s mother). She is therefore only defined by this status and does not really live her life. The director enters the skin of the character, with the inclined spine, the gaze always lowered. Her camera scans her hands still hesitant to take money from her husband. Through several scenes where we see the hands counting the banknotes, we understand that whoever has the money holds the power in the house or elsewhere. He is the “dominant”. This ordinary stay-at-home mom looks like a character from Caravaggio. Always in chiaroscuro, skimming the walls or seen in a doorway, or among people, but never in the foreground, you can barely hear it. She lives (dramatically) her life, but an absurd event will come to upset her course. When, during her son’s birthday, a magician fails his magic trick and transforms her husband into a chicken without being able to bring him back to human form again, she will have to take her family’s situation into her own hands, try to work, sell what little business she has. Now she is in control. Little by little, after taking care of the hen as if he were her husband (feeding her, making her sleep…), she will regain her independence and even her identity. She will finally break free.
In Feathers, Omar el-Zohairy discovers the human being and deciphers the way in which the latter interacts with his environment. A black but funny comedy (“because laughter is also timeless”, according to the director) which draws its references from literary works (Kafka’s Metamorphosis) and cinematographic works (The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos), but above all a work which has its own identity and uniqueness. Recommended tonight at Beirut Souks and if you are in Saïda at Ishbilia at 7pm. Free entry.
Let’s say it straight up: these lines are not about tackling the subject of the cabal – unfounded by the way – led by a few directors or critics of the Egyptian cinematographic community who believed they were defending the rights of a country of the Nil who does not appear in his heyday in the film Feathers by Omar el-Zohairy, but rather to emphasize a…