Written and directed by Amir Ramses, a skillful and often inventive young filmmaker, Curfew is a dramatic film with a psycho-thriller flavour.
The film’s action takes place in 2013, during the period of a state-imposed curfew in Egypt to control acts of violence and destruction committed by the Muslim Brotherhood. All the events of the film take place within 24 hours.
Fatin — portrayed by Elham Shaheen — an elderly mother, is released from prison, having served a 20 year sentence for killing her husband. She has to spend the night with her only daughter, Layla — portrayed by Amina Khalil — a young mother of a fairly serious and often tense family, and her husband, Hassan — portrayed by Ahmed Magdy — who is a wise and elegant doctor. Fatin has to go to her family home in Tanta in the morning after the curfew ends.
Rejected by her daughter, who cannot forget that she is the one who killed her father and forced her to spend all her childhood and youth with her relatives, Fatin tries to win Layla’s forgiveness. She does so without revealing the secret of her life, the true reason behind the crime she committed.
The story almost completely revolves around this secret, which obviously destroys the life of each member of this small family, and even the life of the old neighbour Yahia, portrayed by Palestinian Comedian Kamel Al-Basha.
From the film’s beginning, the director slowly introduces us to the intertwined relationships, bringing together the few protagonists. The atmosphere is filled with darkness, where daylight becomes a luxury, or rather a refuge which frees the people from the curfew.
The camera’s splendid movements give an impression as if it is floating in the air around the characters, surrounding them within the oppressive mist that captures the characters’ souls from the inside and outside.
A whole sensation is additionally deepened by the choices of talented director of photography Omar Abu Douma, who capitalises on warm light mixed with natural light. He brings out shadows, characters’ eyes, or furniture in a new and compelling way.
The suspense, the angst, and the play of light and camera angles come closer, enveloping the film and the viewer in the scenery and very beautiful images.
Curfew is set in rather narrow and limited filming locations, reflecting the protagonists’ hearts.
Music and the sound effects play an essential role in this film, which seems to return to the sources of the musical genre. The score by Tamer Karawan punctuates the elements of the story in a simple and effective way.
In her role as Fatin, Elham Shaheen is awe-inspiring. She manages to physically display all the symptoms of her psychological troubles and the desire for revenge that dominates her. It is in the exchanges with her sister and her mother that her qualities shine and make this interpretation the most convincing that the actress has ever given us.
The actress portrays a mother with a soul that is sometimes distant and sometimes bleeding, disturbed by her secrets, as if she had come straight out of films by Pedro Almodovar or the Dardenne Brothers with great accuracy.
Ilham Shaheen won the Best Actress Award in the 42nd Cairo International Film Festival, where the movie was screened within the International Competition in December 2020, sharing the award with Natalya Pavlenkova for her role in Conference.
For Amina Khalil, her portrayal of Layla is probably the most convincing and natural role in her filmography so far. She perfectly depicts a girl torn between her murdered father and her mother who committed the crime.
Through his portrayal of Hassan, Ahmed Magdy has just added a shining spot to his promising acting career. Meanwhile, Arfah Abdul-Rasool as Fawzeya did not hide her verve as an actress, whose appeal is very clear on the screen.
We should also underscore the efforts of the young Muhra Medhat in her simple but deep role of Salma, and Mahmoud El-Lisy who exceled in the role of Sosta in a surprising way.
Until the end, the spectator expects something dazzling when Layla discovers her mother’s secret, however, when she is close to remembering her father’s death, it all seems quite emotional even if it is dramatically not satisfying.
The director’s choice to present memories in flashbacks which gradually complement each other without resorting to direct dialogue saved the film from an end that would be rejected by some critics. This is probably the whole appeal of this movie: turning a seemingly ordinary story into an extraordinary story.
Curfew is a great achievement; it presents magnificent images, sublime photography and colors, and is topped with music that perfectly fits the dramatic framework.
Visually stunning, Curfew surprises and questions with every shot. In short, Director Amir Ramses has perhaps already made his most beautiful and mature film.
*This article was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo, in French, 20 January 2021 edition. Additional edit: Ahram Online.
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