There are a million stories to be told about post-revolutionary Egypt but they won’t be told by an Egyptian filmmaker.
The narrative of Yousry Nasrallah’s “After the Battle” which he wrote himself and which premieres today in Cannes, held promise: as Egypt is still in the throes of revolutionary fervor an unlikely connection forms between two people from different ends of the social spectrum, people who, under normal circumstances, might not have met. Nasrallah mostly retooled his earlier effort “Women in Cairo,” however, and updated some of the characters leaving others intact.
As it were, the people chosen to perform the main roles seem like they would be better used elsewhere, like on television (lots of good actors on television) their performances uninspiring–it’s hard to care about what happens to them or at their hand. Maybe this was just a misscast film? Like in “Women of Cairo” Nasrallah does not make cinema, at least not something that would recognizable through its grammar or the ability to leave a lasting impression. Instead he combines genres together, mashing documentary with T.V. and fly-on-the-wall reporting. Give us buoyant performances, give us catharsis, give us cinema! The characters and the way the story is told remain pedestrian, never soaring past what the French would call “fait divers.”
To be sure, parallels can to be drawn from Nasrallah’s previous effort “Women of Cairo” and “Battle.” A strong female protagonist who has to navigate the hostile male environment of muslim societies in an attempt to resolve a problem (often altruistic in nature), the instability of men-women relationships with its echo of a society in turmoil, the tug-of-warring between secular Western culture and ancient Middle Eastern mores (with the role of women at the heart of the discussion). So many good elements ripe for poignant drama, so what keeps “Battle” from being a good movie?
Maybe it’s the repetitive nature of certain scenes (women regularly holding their own town meetings to air out the grievances of the day) or the many confused (and confusing) sequences which quickly pile up without advancing the cause of the film.
For holding a mirror to his nation’s plight at the risk of reprisals Nasrallah should be commanded, just like any other filmmaker willing to expose the infamies going on in the Middle East. But “After the Battle” lacks the sense of urgency and spirit that’s expected in cinema and as such failed to make a connection.