FestBeat: 2 worthwhile films on Panorama day 2

In the first of our dispatches from this year’s Panorama of the European Film, Lara El Gibaly gives her thoughts on day two.

For its 9th edition, the Panorama of the European Film have begun printing small daily dispatches which include reviews of some of the day’s films in English and Arabic, as well as a very cool design by Adham Bakry. Yesterday’s was Wings of Desire-themed, and this is definitely going up on my wall.

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I began my very ambitious Panorama schedule by catching Thursday’s 1 pm screening of Wim Wenders’ 1987 classic, Wings of Desire. Going to the cinema while the sun is still up always revives in me the childish thrill of truancy, and this meandering poetic film was a perfect escape from Cairo’s busy midday streets. Considering that it was the middle of the afternoon, there was a good turnout at Cinema Karim, with about a third of the theater full.

Shot beautifully in black and white (except for some bursts of color for emotional emphasis) with long fluid tracking shots, the film takes us in and out of the lives of characters living in Berlin through the eyes of Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), two of many angels watching over the city. Watching is the key word here, because the angels seem not to have any other function than to observe humanity. They do not keep records of our sins or report to a higher power — they exist merely as specters of empathy. All they can offer is to briefly ease a humans’ pain with a light touch of their hand.

When Damiel falls for Marion (Solvieg Dommartin) a trapeze artist (who, in a twist of ironic symbolism, wears wings and plays an angel in her circus act) he longs to become human, to do more than merely watch. Marion is tortured by her own existential questions and also yearns for something more, but doesn’t know exactly what. Ultimately, this film says our only chance at transcending the loneliness of human existence lies in the redemptive power of love.

While the second half (in which we accompany Damiel on his human adventures once he descends to Earth) feels a bit superfluous, it is executed with enough grace and humor to make it still enjoyable. The inner monologues are brilliantly written, and while the pace is quite slow, the elements all come together in a way that keeps you enraptured for the film’s duration.

This film’s theme may sound clichéd, probably because most of us are more familiar with its 1998 American remake, City of Angels. Wenders did it first and did it infinitely better, so watch this film (either on Monday at Alexandria’s Cinema Amir or next Friday at Port Said’s Cinema Arkan) if only to overwrite Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan’s sappy love story in your minds. But also because it really is beautiful.

I also caught the 9:30 pm screening of Piero Messina’s The Wait (2015), starring Juliette Binoche as a mother who has just lost her son and must figure out how to tell his girlfriend (Lou de Laâge), who has arrived for an unexpected visit at their Italian countryside home. I became excited about this film on learning that it was by the assistant director on Paolo Sorrentino’s visually arresting The Great Beauty (2013), and I was not disappointed.

Expecting that this screening would be fully booked, I bought my tickets early, but was surprised to see that only slightly above half the theater was full. I expect this is because the film was showing in the second, larger hall and not the usual one used for most Zawya screenings.

The film unexpectedly opens with a funeral scene and we learn of the son’s death from the first moment, killing any chance of mystery. But as the story unfolds we begin to understand that this isn’t a mystery, it’s a story of loss and fear, and the tension over how, if and when the mother will break the news to her son’s girlfriend.

This heart-wrenching film painted a nuanced and accurate picture of loss — the emptiness, paralysis, the staring out into space — but it has been faulted by some for being overly concerned with visual aesthetics at the expense of plot. It’s true that every frame was (almost too) perfectly framed, lit and shot, but what else is there to do with a film of mostly silences and things unsaid? Binoche is brilliant in her portrayal of a mother reeling from loss and unsure how to cope, and de Laâge’s performance is also compelling.

The Wait screens again on November 8 at 6:30 pm at Cinema Karim, and I highly recommend you go. Do not necessarily expect to cry, but expect to feel a (good) heaviness in your chest as you walk out of the theater.

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