It's a 'Winter of Discontent' in Cairo as revolutionary director is a no-show
Set with the Egyptian revolution as the backdrop, Winter of Discontent (El-Sheta Ele Fat) screens at the 35th Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) and will be re-screened for the public on 3 December.
The Cairo International Film Festival programme stated that following the film's first public screening in Egypt, the highly-acclaimed and anticipated film would host a discussion with the film's director Ibrahim El-Batout as a panelist.
After the film's screening when none of the cast and crew were to be found, the media and audience started leaving, feeling slighted, despite film critic Khaireya El-Bishrawy's excuse that these filmmakers are all "revolutionaries" who were likely in Tahrir Square at the moment.
A discussion was moderated by renowned film critic Rafiq El-Saban, who expressed his disappointment with the situation. "It's not my film to defend," he said. Further on, El-Saban gave the audience facts about the film's screening at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year and the raving reviews it got compared to other revolution films.
Eventually Salah El-Hanafy, one of the film's producers, who also played one of the protagonists in the film, showed up late, apologising for El-Batout's absence. El-Hanafy explained that the director was actually presenting the film before the European Parliament.
Winter of Discontent is set in the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution, with some flashbacks to 2009 during Operation Cast Lead air strikes on Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force; a time where the film protagonist's, Amr's (Amr Waked), life took a drastic turn following his brutal torture at the hands of the State Security aparatus.
The film, although it takes place during the revolution, is not about the revolution per se, but rather follows the experience of its three characters during the uprising: Amr, a political activist and IT programmer, who after getting tortured for three months in 2009 and losing his mother while detained, slips into a state of fear and depression, leaving him in a self-determined house arrest and breaks up with his fiancé Farah (Farah Youssef). The film does not dive into the relationship between Farah and Amr, however, the film opens with a kissing scene that reveals the love they shared before the revolution.
Farah is a journalist and host on what seems to be a state TV talk show, who downplays the revolution's events and show only the state's version of the events. Disgusted with herself, she quits her job, takes her camera, joins the revolution on the streets and calls on others to do the same.
The film's third character, Adel (Salah El-Hanafy), is a top State Security officer, whose life collides with Amr's when he tortures him during the Gaza war. El-Hanafy's performance was compelling, really inviting the audience into the character's life as a torturer as well as a human being through his family life.
The stimulating cinematography pays great attention to detail to the characters and their surroundings. The director chose to be character-focused rather than event-focused with few scenes of the actual revolution. That being the case, although, the audience was left with nostalgia over the revolution, the protagonists and the relationships between each other left space for a more profound presentation.
Winter of Discontent draws its storyline from the realities the filmmakers were exposed to, according to El-Hanafy. "The energy to make the movie was drawn from Tahrir," he said. Many of the peripheral characters, such as the sheikh who was forced to drink until he urinated on himself because he supports Palestine, or Amr's detention and torture scene or Farah's situation with thugs in the volunteer-manned checkpoints during the protests were all drawn from real stories and experiences.
The film uses no borrowed documentary footage for the scenes in Tahrir Square – they actually filmed the movie scenes in Tahrir during the uprising. The uprising began on 25 January and Mubarak was toppled on 11 February - they decided to film on 10 February to draw from the emotions they all felt while demonstrating. The film was even funded by the revolution, as well as Aroma Productions, Ein Shams and Material House and many of the film crew's friends contributed to the film's budget to make this dream a reality.
One of the most impressive sets of scenes is the State Security interrogation of some of the detainees during the initial 18 days of the uprising. The witty clips sometimes made the audience laugh out loud: they show some people empowered, who didn't let themselves be lead by the officers' oppressive questioning. Some of the interrogated characters played themselves - one of which was killed during state attacks on a Coptic Christian protest in Maspero and who was honoured at the end of the film.
El-Hanafy reveals that the sceenplay was merely a few pages long. The skeleton of the story was there, but no dialogue. That was left to the actors to improvise, based on their research and feel for the character.
El-Hanafy also shared with the audience his experience of talking to several family acquaintances who were members of the State Security, as well as his visit to the State Security office in 6 of October city, merely days before it was burned down.
He also shed light on Waked's silence throughout the film, which was the actor's way to show his character's broken spirit over his loss of dignity, mother and lover - all for a situation he had no control over. The actors would talk briefly before shooting the scenes and improvise the dialogue, which gave the films its rawness.
The film leaves the future open, with statistics on the infringement by Egypt's military junta during the revolution: 2287 lives taken, 371 eyes lost, 8969 injuries, 27 virginity checks on women and other statistics. This ameliorates the criticism that the film ignored the aftermath of those 18 days and gives the sense of continuation to the revolution that is yet to achieve its goals.