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Two new arab films reviewed, "LUST", (Egypt) and "DEATH FOR SALE" (Morocco)

by Alex Deleon
LUST (Al Shooq) is an Egyptian film set in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, on the Mediterranean.
However the part of the city we see is no tourist dream -- but a poverty stricken warren of side streets where the central figure, Umm Shooq, a charismatic possessed lady, and her two mod daughters live. When her youngest son falls seriously ill with a kidney condition and needs dialysis treatment --very expensive -- she is forced to beg on the streets to raise the money. When she finally does raise enough cash it is too ate. The child has died -- in a dreadfully dragged out death scene. Um Shooq (the name means "mother of Shooq", which is the name of one of her daughters, and the word Shooq acturally means "desire") is a very complex character who is believed to have clairvoyant powers (she reads coffee dregs) and also to be possessed by demons.
People both fear her and admire her, but her daughters feel terribly oppressed by her. When she returns from a begging trip to Cairo the daughters confront her saying they have been forced to sell themselves because of her neglect, whereupon she complertely freaks out and goes into a trance calling the daughters bitches and finally literally beating her brains out against a stone wall as the neighbors gather in awe. In the last scene we see the two daughters walking arm in arm along the handsome oceanfront promenade of Alexandria as the camera pulls back to reveal the vast expanse of blue Mediterranean waters.
The film was criticized in Egypt for portraying Egyptian poverty too drastically and too grimly, but it nevertheless won the best film Award at the 2011 Cairo Film Festival as well as the best actress for 55 year old Sawsan Badr.
Definitely not a feel good film but notable for an exceptional performance by actress Badr. The director, Khaled El Hagar, started out as an assistant to the grand master of Egyptian cinema, Youssef Chahine. He is currently one of Egypt's most respected filmmakers and noted for making controversial films, of which "Lust" is an example.

Moroccan Director Faouzi Bensaidi as the sadistic cop Daggat in his own film "Death For Sale"

DEATH FOR SALE, (Baya al-Mawyt) Morocco 2011 directed with a nonstop verve by Faouzi Bensaidi is another dark film also set in a seaside North African city, Tetouan, near Gibraltar. It starts out a bit like Fellini's Vitelloni --focusing on three young buddies -- very much losers with no future whose main source of income is purse snatching in broad daylight. However, Allal, the hardened leader of the three has plans to break into the drug rackets which seem to be the lynchpin of Tetouan's economy. The main character is Malik, a slighty more sensitive dude who has fallen madly in love with a local prostitute, Dounia (Miss "World"). Here some very erotic bedroom scenes as she caresses his bare back with her bare breasts. The third member of this low class trio is Soufiane who suddenly gets religion and becomes a burden to the other two who have no time for his fundamentalist blatherings. Aside from Malik, the most sympathetic character in the tale is Dounia, who has fallen in love with Malik as well and becomes very protective of him. The most sinister character of all is police Inspector Daggat, played by none other than director Bansaidi himself --in a most unsavory role! He forces Malik to become a police informer (snitch) in return for which he lets Dunia out of jail and even has them set up together in a little hotel which becomes their love nest. But we know that when he's good and ready he will surely betray them. When Allal returns from hiding out in the mountains to plan a Jewelery store heist that will presumably put all three on easy street, the shit starts hitting the fan. The last part of the film is the botched heist with only Malik barely escaping with the loot, and heading off to meet Dounia at the train station to flee to another city (Marrakesh) and another life. It looks like we may be headed for a happy ending until, with the cops hot on Malik's tail, she offers to hide the money under her clothing and retires to the ladies room. When she fails to reappear Malik finds that she has absconded with the loot and left him high and dry -- a bit like Jean Seaberg the anti-heroine of Godard's Breathless. Malik is devastated and walks out of the station as the police close in and he is left hanging upside down in the last frame of the picture as the camera itself does a headstand. All in all a pretty bleak study of young people in a ruthless society that have nowhere to go but straight to hell.
Very stylishly filmed and acted, even though it has nothing new to say about anything --least of all Islamic culture -- it does maintain interest and builds sympathy for the pitiful central lovers -- while providing a portrait of the bustling city of Tetouan along the way. Death For Sale will be the Moroccan entry in the 2013 Hollywood Oscars in the foreign language film category. Two performers we would like to see more of are Fehd Benchemsi (Malik) and (Imane Elmechrafi, (Dounia) .

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