In an unprecedented feat that could put the legitimacy of the awards into question, Egypt swept all major awards of the 34th Cairo International Film Festival, earning best picture, best actor, best actress and best Arabic film.
The awards were announced Thursday evening at Cairo Opera House’s Main Hall. The low-key closing ceremony was notable for its complete absence of both Egyptian and international film stars.
No other hosting nation has pulled such a stunt in recent memory. The below-average quality of this year’s selection has cast a large shadow over the significance of this year’s winners. The jubilation that greeted most of the winners was quite mild, and although some of them had won over critics and audiences alike, their win gives no indication of their real value, when judged in the context of a weak competition.
Khalid Al-Haggar’s controversial drama “El-Shouq” (Lust) was the big winner of the night, nabbing the Golden Pyramid gong for best film and Best Actress for Sawsan Badr’s unanimously praised powerhouse performance.
Set in an impoverished neighborhood in Alexandria, Al-Haggar’s exceedingly bleak picture chronicles the breakdown of a poverty-stricken family ravaged by a chaotic, unjust society. Badr plays the family’s determined yet helpless matriarch who resorts to begging when her young son falls ill.
Al-Haggar thanked the jury members and dedicated his award to his mentor, Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine, and late production designer Hamed Hemdan.
This is Egypt’s first Golden Pyramid in 14 years. The last time the hosting country won the fest’s top award was in 1996 for Raafat El-Mihi’s social satire “Tofaha” (A Girl Called Apple).
Egyptian film star Amr Waked scooped the Best Actor award for Ricky Tognazzi’s Italian production, “Il padre e lo straniero” (The Father and the Foreigner). Waked plays a Syrian father of a disabled boy who starts a friendship with a lowly Italian public official. Italian heartthrob Alessandro Gassman, who plays the public official, was tied for best actor with Waked. In addition to the acting prizes, the film went home with the Best Screenplay trophy.
Veteran French star Isabelle Huppert was also tied for the Best Actress award for her lighthearted, against-type performance in Marc Fitoussi’s comedy, “Copacabana.” Huppert plays Babou, a middle-aged socialite trying to win back her daughter by taking on a serious job for the first time in her life.
Ahmad Abdallah’s indie production “Microphone” earned the Best Arabic Film award. Abdallah’s highly acclaimed sophomore effort, which won best film at the Carthage Film Festival in October, explores the underground art scene of Alexandria. The film stars Khaled Abol Naga, Youssra El Lozy and Menna Shalaby.
“I’d like to thank the Alexandria people and bands who were generous enough to grant us a part of their lives,” Abdalla said upon receiving the prize.
Irish filmmaker Juanita Wilson won the Silver Pyramid award for her wartime drama, “As If I’m Not There.” A survival tale set in the Yugoslav Wars, the film centers on a Bosnian school teacher who becomes the subject of torture and rape in the Serbian concentration camps.
Best direction went to Svetoslav Ovcharov’s “Voice Over” from Bulgaria. Set at the height of the communist era, the film, which’s based on a true story, dissects the direct implications of Bulgaria’s former totalitarian regime on ordinary lives. The film also won the the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) award.
Polish director Andrzej Kotkowski snatched the Best First or Second Work by a Director award for his film “Born of the Sea.” The Artistic Contribution for best music and cinematography was given to Chito S. Rono’s musical “Emir” from the Philippines.
In the Arab competition, the Best Screenplay award was given to two films: Mohamed Al Daradji’s festival favorite “Son of Babylon” from Iraq and Georges Hachem’s “Stray Bullet” from Lebanon.
“Babylon” charts the journey of a little boy and his grandmother to find the boy’s missing father, a soldier who disappeared 12 years ago. “Bullet” is a domestic drama exploring familial relationships and traditions against the backdrop of the Lebanese Civil War. The film stars “Caramel” director Nadine Labaki.
A special mention was given to Moroccan filmmaker Daoud Aoulad-Syad for his comedy “The Mosque,” a sequel of sorts to his 2007 hit “Waiting for Pasolini,” and Tunisian actress Hend El Fahem for her acclaimed performance in Moez Kamoun’s “Fin Decembre .”
In the digital competition, Dutch filmmaker Caroline Kamya won the Golden Award for her film “Joy,” while Ugandan filmmaker Caroline Kamya received the Silver Award for her debut feature “Imani,”