A critic's take on "The Blue Elephant" in the room
Directed by Marwan Hamed, El-Fil El-Azraq (The Blue Elephant) is an action drama based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Ahmed Mourad.
The film – which hit cinemas during Eid – proved to be an ambitious project, where the relations between man and his beliefs are analyzed through the concept of a devil.
The film as well as the novel are an aberration from the author’s usual analytical and critical style who also wrote Vertigo, another novel that was adapted as television series and screened last year.
The Blue Elephant is filled with dramatic twists that are both poignant and mysterious. We meet psychiatrist Yehia Rashed (Karim Abdel-Aziz), who returns against his will to his post in the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital five years after the death of his wife and only daughter in a car accident. In the hospital, he meets his friend and colleague, Sherif El-Kordy (Khaled El-Sawy), who murdered his wife and is being held in the 'Dangerous Cases Unit'. Thus begins a mysterious adventure where Rashed aims to rescue his friend, discovering that he needs to save himself as well.
Addressing themes such as fate, witchcraft, haunting of memories and questioning the presence of satan in our destinies, this nearly three-hour film challenges our being and pushes us to question reality through a hyper-enigmatic scenario. The film also draws upon complex characters and the fantasy that is intertwined with human depth.
The film’s plot is both astounding and sad; it is also nonlinear with ideas with scenes not in chronological order.
Just as any other Mourad novel, we are first intrigued by a mysterious idea, before moving to the detailed embroidery, an important aspect of the story. However within this embroidery, the focus is always directed towards human psychology and inner turmoil of the characters presented.
The undeniably strong point of Mourad lies in the presentation of characters who are both, primary when carrying the protagonist's role and secondary when involved in intrigues of the other characters.
While remaining atypical and interesting, each character has their own particularity, a fact that makes it easier to endure the length of some scenes. As the action progresses, we follow a film filled with suspense and mystery, where sides are not taken and scenes do not fall prey to the classical Manichaeism where good and bad are clearly defined.
The power of emotions is omnipresent with positive sentiments surfacing only sporadically. Strange and quite unique, the general mood carries us away. The multilevel linking between various protagonists is deeply woven to deliver an effect that benefits the characters and the actors while shaping them at the same time.
Karim Abdel-Aziz's talent is evident. Playing a mentally disturbed psychiatrist allows Abdel-Aziz to convey – with minimal expression – the most profound and equally convincing emotions.
Khaled El-Sawy’s ability to play both and the devil Nael is superb.
Nelly Karim portrays a rather simplistic role of Lobna, sister of the criminal, a character that almost softens the heat of a dramatic duel.
The young Mohamed Mamdouh, does an excellent job as Dr. Sameh, the resentful psychiatrist.
Lebleba, in the role of Safaa, the hospital's wise director, and Sherin Reda in the role of Deega, the enigmatic tattoo artist, both managed to capture the characters in a natural and credible manner. Even the young Mohamad Shahin excels in the role of Shaker, the gambler, though his character does not carry a lot of dramatic prerequisites in the film.
Aesthetics and acoustics well designed
Implementation aside; the film is a success in itself as we are discovering a new master of the cinematic creativity. The talented Marwan Hamed signs under a film that will become a cornerstone of today's psychological drama.
The aesthetic quality, the work of photography, framing, camera movements, the entire formal construction of the work is a success story; all is directly linked to the thematic depth.
In short, the work is very well done, the editing is well executed to harmonize between suspense, dramatic tension and the balance between hatred and gloom. It must also be said that with visual effects executed by French experts from the BUF Compagnie, the film gained a new aesthetic and technical level.
It is through the audio and visual experimentations that Marwan Hamed strengthens the figurative elements in his work. As such the soundtrack perfectly complements the movie. Composed by Hesham Nazih, the music participates fully in creating this mental and fantasy universe.
Though some sounds challenge our perceptions they parallel the music, which in its turn is often abstract and experimental, with some lines played on a bouzouki to create the disturbing and adventurous mood.
By Yasser Moheb
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